Toto Wolff explains reason behind short Lewis Hamilton extension at Mercedes

Hamilton will depart for Ferrari at the end of the season

Harry Latham-Coyle
Wednesday 28 February 2024 19:04 GMT
Toto Wolff will see Lewis Hamilton leave Mercedes at the end of the 2024 season
Toto Wolff will see Lewis Hamilton leave Mercedes at the end of the 2024 season (Getty Images)

Toto Wolff has revealed that Mercedes only gave Lewis Hamilton a short-term contract to guard against potentially losing budding teenage star Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

Hamilton will leave the team at the end of the 2024 Formula 1 season to join Ferrari after more than a decade with the Brackley-based team.

The seven-time world champion signed a two-year contract extension last summer that seemed to tie him down through the end of the 2025 season, but has been able to use a get-out clause to join their rivals next year.

The relatively short contract offered and accepted by Hamilton surprised some at the time, and Wolff has now explained that Mercedes were reluctant to extend the Brit beyond next year.

Recalling how he missed out on Max Verstappen in 2014, Wolff does not want to risk Antonelli, who will race in Formula 2 this season, heading elsewhere.

“There was a situation many years ago where we had the opportunity to let Max drive,” Wolff told Austrian broadcaster ORF. “And that wasn’t possible back then because we simply didn’t have a cockpit.

“[Nico] Rosberg and Hamilton were tied to us long-term, and Red Bull naturally seized the opportunity. They gave him a contract with Toro Rosso, with the possibility of driving for Red Bull the following year.

Toto Wolff is considering his options to replace Lewis Hamilton (Getty Images)

“We then lost the young driver, and you can see how successful he has become. And precisely because we have a junior on the horizon who is really driving at a very high level, I simply wanted to keep this option open.

“That does not mean that we will actually put Antonelli in the car next year. He is 17 years old, and that might be a bit early. But with a view to the next five or ten years, I just wanted to have this option.”

A number of drivers have been linked with replacing Hamilton, including fellow veteran Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz, who he will displace at Ferrari.

Wolff confirmed that Antonelli is being fast-tracked to test his readiness to potentially partner George Russell in the near future.

“In a way, he’s a wonderkid,” the Austrian said. “He won everything there was to win in karting and then moved into F4. He won all the championships in his rookie year, then moved up a level and won everything there too.

“Now we’ve decided to skip F3, partly because there’s not much time to test there. Instead, he’ll go straight into F2, which is a huge leap for him. These are really big cars with power. Most of the races are part of the F1-supporting programme, so we’ll have a good overview there too.”

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