Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has said he can only “hope” Lewis Hamilton will decide to continue in Formula 1 after the heartbreak of Abu Dhabi.
A dominant Hamilton looked all set to clinch a record-breaking eighth World Championship in the 2021 season finale, but he saw that historic moment disappear in the blink of an eye due to a shock, sudden decision made by Race Control.
Following Nicholas Latifi’s crash in the latter stages of the race, the Safety Car was deployed and was set to remain in force until the chequered flag waved, effectively neutralising the race.
However, the lapped cars between race leader and second-placed Max Verstappen were able to un-lap themselves, clearing the path for the Dutchman on much fresher tyres to attack a now vulnerable Hamilton on the final lap.
The decision ensured the Drivers’ World Championship title went Verstappen’s way and that is an outcome Mercedes have now begrudgingly accepted after withdrawing their intent to appeal the FIA’s decision to quash both post-race protests lodged.
With Mercedes’ silence now well and truly broken, Wolff stated in his press conference that he cannot be 100 per cent sure at this stage that Hamilton will even return to Formula 1 next season.
“I would very much hope Lewis continues racing because he is the greatest driver of all time,” Wolff said, as quoted by GPFans.
“When you look at it from the point of view of the last four races, he was dominant. There wasn’t even a doubt who won the race, and that was worthy of winning the world championship.
“So we will be working through the events of the next weeks and months and as a racer, his heart will say ‘I need to continue’ because he is at the peak of his game.
“But we have to overcome the pain that was caused upon him on Sunday because he is also a man with clear values and that it’s difficult to understand that happened.”
Wolff also said both he and Hamilton are still feeling pretty raw from Sunday’s last-lap events and thinks it is something that Hamilton will never be truly able to overcome.
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“Lewis and I are disillusioned at the moment,” Wolff continued.
“Not disillusioned of the sport, we love this sport with every bone in our body, and we love it because the stopwatch never lies.
“But if we break that fundamental principle of sporting fairness and authenticity of the sport, then suddenly the stopwatch doesn’t become relevant anymore because we are exposed to random decision making, and it’s clear you fall out of love with it.
“You start to question that if all the work you have been putting in, all the sweat, tears and blood can actually be demonstrated, in terms of bringing the best possible performances on track because it can be taken away randomly.
“So it’s going to take a long time for us to digest what happened on Sunday. I don’t think we will ever get over it. That’s not possible, and certainly not for him as a driver.
“I very much hope the two of us, and the rest of the team, work through the events, and we can, with the FIA and F1, utilise the situation to improve the sport going forward.
“But he will never overcome the pain and the distress that was caused on Sunday.
“To be honest, still today, I can’t even understand what happened. I’m in disbelief, It still feels surreal.”