Up to Hamilton whether he stays in 2022 - Wolff
"As long as Lewis enjoys racing..."
He may now have signed a contract, but rampant media speculation about Lewis Hamilton’s future in Formula 1 looks set to rage on.
"We have decided to extend the sporting relationship for another season and to begin a longer-term project to take the next step in our shared commitment to greater diversity within our sport," Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said in the announcement of Hamilton’s new one-year deal for 2021.
According to multiple authoritative sources, the seven time world champion has even signed up with a minor pay-cut this year in a contract that does not include an option for 2022.
"We want to keep the theatre going by delivering content to journalists," Wolff joked to German-language media on Monday.
He does not deny that the 2021 deal may include a pay-cut for 36-year-old Hamilton, who is rumoured to make around EUR 40 million per year.
"We live in an incredibly difficult time, also economically, and the automotive industry is also facing challenges," Wolff explained.
"Lewis is aware of this situation and has always shown loyalty to us, so it wasn’t a tough topic."
As for the new ’diversity’ foundation, Wolff said the coffers have been filled up by "a few million" - half from Hamilton, and half from Mercedes.
The one-year term, however, indicates that the British driver is settling for less than he demanded.
"We waited so long with the negotiations that we didn’t want to discuss an additional year or two now," said Wolff. "There is a substantial regulation change in 2022 and we also want to see how the world develops."
However, the talks about 2022 look set to kick off almost immediately.
"The talks for 2022 will start earlier than the 2021 deal," Wolff confirmed.
"It’s always tricky to find some time whilst racing but we have learned the lesson that there can be external factors that can delay discussions and we don’t want to end up in January again," he added.
Wolff hit back at reports that Hamilton was demanding a ’veto’ on the identity of his 2022 teammate, therefore hinting at the conclusion that if Mercedes wants to sign up Max Verstappen or George Russell, the team will do that.
"On these specific clauses that were out there in the media, I don’t know where it came from because none of it is true," Wolff said.
"The other clause about the revenue split or share came out of nowhere. That rumour was baseless too so none of that was ever a part of our discussions."
Therefore, Hamilton must now decide whether he wants to stay at Mercedes beyond 2021 under the current terms of his deal.
"Lewis needs to decide what his future holds for him so I wouldn’t want to comment on where he stands," said Wolff.
"On the other side, the team needs to decide long-term what we are going to do about our drivers.
"Valtteri and Lewis have our 100 percent commitment and loyalty for 2021," the Austrian added. "We will then look beyond this year and say ’what is the lineup that we imagine in 2022 and onwards?’
"As long as Lewis enjoys racing he is very capable of going longer," Wolff continued. "He looks after himself physically and mentally, so I don’t think in terms of ability that will end in 2021.
"But in the end, it is his decision."
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