Mercedes is determined to give an energized Lewis Hamilton both a winning car and a contract extension this season.
Toto Wolff just doesn’t have a timeline for either.
Mercedes on Wednesday revealed it has returned to an all-black color scheme for this Formula One season and team principal Wolff was confident the car has improved from last year. Wolff was cautious on when the car might actually be capable of winning, but said the continued development would not be a deterrent in negotiations with Hamilton.
Mercedes last year had its run of eight consecutive world titles snapped and seven-time champion Hamilton went winless for the first time in his career. George Russell scored Mercedes’ only victory.
The struggles won’t be a deterrent in Hamilton’s contract negotiations, Wolff said.
“I don’t think it plays into Lewis’ mind any doubts that we will perform. We will. Eventually,” said Wolff, who made clear repeatedly, “we will be competitive. We don’t know when.”
Last year was difficult for Hamilton as the Mercedes design badly missed the mark. It was both uncompetitive and physically difficult to drive, and it developed a bouncing phenomenon dubbed “porpoising” that left both Hamilton and Russell bruised and battered after every drive.
After narrowly missing out on the title to Max Verstappen in 2021, Hamilton and Mercedes went into 2022 with confidence but were soon disappointed.
Last season “was a shock to all of us, so this year I think everyone is a lot more grounded,” Hamilton said. “We perhaps won’t be the fastest out of the gate, but we have the potential to close. Hopefully we will be closer, and hopefully we will have the potential to close the gap early on in the season.”
Despite Mercedes’ struggles in 2022, Hamilton said late last season he wanted a long-term contract extension. Hamilton, who turned 38 last month, reiterated his desire to continue driving at Wednesday’s car reveal.
“I continue to love racing and that is never going to change,” Hamilton said. “It is part of my DNA and I always believe I can get better. I am planning to stay a little bit longer.”
Ahead of his 17th season, Hamilton is feeling “very refreshed, very centered” after time away with his family. “I can’t remember the last time I felt this excited to get in the car” for pre-season testing, he added.
Wolff said there has been one conversation with Hamilton about a new contract but that he had neither a timeline nor an inclination to rush the process. He said neither salary nor age were of concern to Mercedes, and Wolff likened Hamilton to NFL quarterback Tom Brady, who last month retired at age 45.
“I think the age 38 plays no role for this next contract. If you look at how well top athletes in the world push boundaries, and I am thinking about Tom Brady … The age plays no role,” Wolff said. “How (Lewis) appears to me is in great form, very positive. Motivated. Energized. Maybe the best so far I’ve seen.
“He knows what he has with the team. We won eight constructors’ titles in a row … and we got it wrong last year.”
The black color scheme was introduced by Mercedes in 2020 to promote diversity and inclusion in step with Hamilton’s own vocal push to increase the representation of minorities in motorsports. Mercedes returned to its traditional silver after two years, but the switch back to black is designed to cut weight from the car.
“We were overweight last year,” Wolff said. “This year we have tried to figure out where we can squeeze out every single gram.”
Despite the poor performance of last year’s car, Wolff said he plans to display the Mercedes in the lobby of the Brackley headquarters as a motivating tool.
“It is a symbol of boldness for me, and courage. We took a radical design direction last year, and we dared, and we failed,” Wolff said. “So for me, that shows a lot of the mindset of the team, how it is important to cope with success and failure at the same time.
“And I wouldn’t want us to go in any shape or form conservative in the future. I want us to take calculated risks and be bold.” – AP