Mark Webber thinks Toto Wolff’s “tightrope” approach to contract negotiations with Lewis Hamilton may have worked to Mercedes’ advantage.
Despite clinching his seventh World Championship this season, Hamilton is yet to agree a deal with Mercedes to race in 2021 and beyond – or at least not one that has been publicly announced to date.
Hamilton had to miss the Sakhir Grand Prix when he contracted COVID-19 and his stand-in, George Russell, impressed hugely with the way he controlled the race, only missing out on victory due to a pit-stop blunder by the team and a subsequent slow puncture.
With Russell, who is effectively ‘on loan’ at Williams, chomping at the bit for a full-time opportunity with Mercedes, Webber believes the 22-year-old’s performance bought Wolff some leverage when it comes to discussing Hamilton’s future value to the team.
“The timing for Lewis was just horrible,” said the Australian in the ‘At The Controls’ podcast, referring to Hamilton’s positive test for the coronavirus.
“I think we all thought during the season ‘imagine if Lewis or someone in the Championship battle got Covid and missed a few races’.
“I think I drove 1,000 days in a Formula 1 car with testing, practice, grand prix weekends, the whole thing put together over 12 or 13 years, and I think I had three days off.
“That’s because I don’t want anyone near my car. You try to look after your own share price, you don’t want people to have exposure to your material, your people.
“It’s such a cut-throat industry, even someone like Lewis that was all downside for him.
“George drove well. It was the easiest track in the world – it wasn’t exactly Suzuka – but he still drove brilliantly in a compromised ergonomic environment in the car.
“Toto certainly likes the tightrope in terms of playing the game with lots of different things in the pit lane, and that was another one where it looks like it’s come out in his favour.”
Hamilton said in the lead-up to Christmas that talks over a new deal would take place imminently, with his place being the last on the F1 grid yet to be resolved.
“We haven’t started the conversation but we plan to do that over the coming days,” said the World Champion.
“On the super, super plus side, I’m really proud and grateful to see Toto is staying. He’s such an important leading figure within this team and the success we’ve achieved wouldn’t have been possible without him.
“He’s such a great figurehead and I think the team is just better for it, to have that longevity, and it’s great to see that commitment from Mercedes.”