File picture: Mike Segar / Reuters.
File picture: Mike Segar / Reuters.

Wolff rumoured to be leaving Merc, which could send Hamilton packing

By Jonathan McEvoy Time of article published Mar 20, 2020

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London - Lewis Hamilton’s future at Mercedes was cast into doubt on Thursday when his boss Toto Wolff was remarkably absent from a heated conference call intended to save Formula One from financial oblivion.

Ferrari came under fire from the rest of the sport’s powerbrokers over its unwillingness to support the rescue package that was finally agreed - flexibility over a revised calendar and the suspension of the radical regulations overhaul due to be introduced next season.

But Sportsmail understands that neither Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, nor Lawrence Stroll, the owner of Racing Point, took part in arguably the most crucial summit in Formula One history.

The two men are believed to have travelled back together from Australia, where last Sunday’s postponed race was due to be held, and suggestions were rife last night - though denied by Mercedes - that Wolff is being lined up to take over as chief executive of Aston Martin, the British sports car company in which Stroll has recently bought a major shareholding.

This mooted development has a dramatic knock-on effect for Hamilton’s future, with his £40 million (R812m) contract due for renewal at the end of the year.

The six-time world champion is on record as saying that whether Wolff stays or goes will be a determining factor in his decision-making.

Wolff, a 48-year-old Austrian, wanted to take over as chief executive of the whole sport when Liberty Media’s Chase Carey retires, but Ferrari refused to countenance the idea of a rival executive filling the post. He has since equivocated over his future.

Wolff has been in charge for all five of Hamilton’s title successes at Mercedes and his departure would raise the possibility Hamilton could switch to Ferrari.

Neither Wolff nor Stroll took part in a previous conference call between the 10 teams on Monday. James Allison, Mercedes’ technical director, and Otmar Szafnauer, Racing Point’s team principal, deputised on both occasions.

Racing Point will be renamed Aston Martin in 2021 after Stroll, a Canadian fashion billionaire, seized a 16.7 per cent stake in the ailing business in January. That increased to a 25 percent holding earlier this month. He and Wolff are close confidants.

In their absence on Thursday, a fraught three-and-a-half-hour debate took place during which Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto came under fierce attack, notably from Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and his counterpart at McLaren, Zak Brown. An insider told Sportsmail: "There was genuine anger at Binotto’s reluctance to give way over deferring the 2021 regulations. It got very heated.

"He didn’t want to concede a competitive advantage for the greater good." In the end agreement was reached, with the Dutch and Spanish grands prix, scheduled for May, postponed and Monaco cancelled. Azerbaijan on June 7 is now the earliest possible race.

It was also decided that next year’s rule changes would be delayed by a year and the budget cap of £150million reduced. How exactly is still to be finalised, though basically this year’s car will continue next season.

Liberty Media said: "Formula One and the FIA continue to work closely with promoters and local authorities to monitor the situation and take the appropriate amount of time to study the viability of potential alternative dates should the situation improve.

"Formula One and the FIA expect to begin the 2020 Championship season as soon as it’s safe to do so after May and will continue to regularly monitor the ongoing Covid-19 situation."

Daily Mail

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