Wolff casts doubt on Hamilton future, both to shun FIA gala

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton finished runner-up to Red Bull's Max Verstappen after the Dutch driver overtook him on the last lap at Yas Marina, benefiting from a sudden change to the safety car procedure.


FILE PHOTO: Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff (pic) said that Lewis Hamilton may never get over the pain of being 'robbed' of a record eighth Formula One title.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Lewis Hamilton may never get over the pain of being 'robbed' of a record eighth Formula One title, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said on Thursday in comments that raised doubts about the driver's future in the sport.

The Austrian, speaking to reporters for the first time since Sunday's race in Abu Dhabi and after Mercedes had dropped plans to appeal, said he and Hamilton would not be attending the governing FIA's gala awards in Paris that evening.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen will be handed his trophy at the ceremony and the top three drivers are obliged to attend the prize-giving under article 6.6 of the Formula One sporting regulations.

Hamilton finished runner-up to Red Bull's Max Verstappen after the Dutch driver overtook him on the last lap at Yas Marina, benefiting from a sudden change to the safety car procedure that allowed racing to resume.

"It's going to take a long time for us to digest what has happened on Sunday. I don't think we will ever come over it, that's not possible," said Wolff.

"And certainly not him (Hamilton) as a driver. I would very much hope the two of us and the rest of the team we can work through the events... But he will never overcome the pain and the distress that was caused on Sunday."

Hamilton spoke briefly after Sunday's race to 2009 world champion Jenson Button before the podium ceremonies but did no media post-race and has not spoken publicly since.

He also avoided saying anything after being knighted at Windsor Palace on Wednesday.

Asked directly whether Hamilton, who turns 37 in January, would be back next year, Wolff indicated that was not a certainty.

"I would very much hope Lewis continues racing because he is the greatest driver of all time," he said.

READ: Mercedes withdraws appeal, Verstappen crowned F1 champion

"As a racer his heart will say I need to continue because he's at the peak of his game," he added. "But we have to overcome the pain that was caused upon him on Sunday. He is a man with clear values."

Mercedes won the constructors' title for an unprecedented eighth year in a row and Wolff said technical head James Allison would be in Paris to collect the trophy on behalf of all the workforce.

"I won't be there because of my loyalty to Lewis and because of my own personal integrity," he said.

Wolff was confident Mercedes could have won a legal battle but there was "a difference between right and obtaining justice."

He said every decision was taken with Hamilton.

"It was tremendously hard for him and for us as a team to withdraw the appeal, because we were wronged," he added.

"My soul and my heart cries with every bone that this should have been judged in the right way."

Wolff said there had been no contact with race director Michael Masi, who made the safety car decision, since Sunday.

"I'm not interested in having a conversation with Michael Masi," he said.

"The decisions that have been taken in the last four minutes of this race have robbed Lewis Hamilton of a deserved world championship. He won the start and he never gave the lead away again.

"Robbing him on the last lap of the race is unacceptable... my values, my sense of integrity, just isn't compatible with the decisions that have been made on Sunday." 

Radio access to Masi should be restricted

Wolff said that radio access to Masi should be limited to prevent anyone lobbying for their team or putting pressure on him.

The final race of the season in Abu Dhabi last Sunday saw both Red Bull Boss Christian Horner and Wolff talking to Masi heatedly during one of the most controversial moments in the sport's history.

The Australian's decision to alter the safety car procedure to allow for a last lap of racing cost a record eighth title and handed a first to Verstappen, who overtook his rival seven corners from the end.

"I think the team principals shouldn't speak directly to the race director. It should be the sporting directors," Wolff told reporters.

"I would even go one step further. I don't think the sporting directors should be lobbying the race director or exercising pressure.

"I think they should be pointing to situations that the race director and his colleagues might have not spotted, but not lobby or pressurise."

This year was the first time radio exchanges between the teams and Masi have been broadcast, to give television viewers more insight, and Wolff said he blamed himself in part for taking that decision with other bosses.

"It was meant well but I think we overshot...we were given the opportunity to talk to the race director directly and because we fight so fiercely for the interest of our teams all of us overstepped," he said.

During Sunday's race, Wolff told Masi: "Michael, please no safety car, it interferes with the race."

He then said, when the safety car period was about to end without all lapped cars unlapping themselves: "We need to go back to the lap before".

The Australian replied: "Toto, It's called a motor race."

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