Mercedes boss Toto Wolff on Friday rejected suggestions that delaying contract talks with Lewis Hamilton to the end of the season would leave the driver and the team without any room for manoeuvre.
Speaking at the Turkish Grand Prix, where Hamilton is seeking to seal a record-equalling seventh drivers’ world championship, the Austrian also heaped praise on the Briton’s ambition and commitment.
“This is what we agreed,” said Wolff. “I think it was important to make sure that we have both titles secured and then have a more relaxed approach to the discussion about the future.”
Hamilton had hinted after winning the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix earlier this month that he was considering retirement, but on Thursday appeared to be more positive, suggesting he would stay with Mercedes next season.
Wolff said that the short period of time was not a problem and stressed he did not “feel cornered”.
“No,” he responded. “Not at all cornered – there is a good dependence on each other. We would like him in the car and I think he wants to drive the Mercedes because it is competitive so, of course, there is a good balance.”
Wolff’s contract also expires this year and he admitted that all team principals have “a certain shelf-life” in the job.
“It is not sustainable to do a few hundred races and be the best you that started on the journey,” he said.
“It is a job that involves being in an aeroplane for 20 or so races and then, coming back on Monday, you have an office job.
“I did 250-odd thousands of air miles last year and 500 hours of flying and it is something I don’t want to do for the rest of my life.
“But I take enjoyment in what I do and I certainly don’t want to step away from the Mercedes team. I am a co-owner with Mercedes, it is something I am very proud of and the team functions very well.
“I believe that I should hand over the baton to somebody who will start his journey with the same motivation and energy as when I started.”
Wolff said Hamilton’s relentless pursuit of self-improvement set him apart from the rest.
“What I have realised over the years is his permanent self-analysis, how to get better,” he said.
“He’s become really good in identifying points of weaknesses and then tackling them.
“And he has progressed over the years as a racing driver in the car and as a personality outside of the car.
“That is something that you see very rarely with people that are critical enough whilst not beating themselves up in order to progress.
“Many others in F1, or outside, you’re pretty stubborn, you’re not really good at identifying your own shortcomings — and therefore you stagnate in your development.
“And it’s a thinking pattern that, with him, simply doesn’t exist.”
Having led Mercedes to a record seven consecutive constructors’ titles, Wolff has presided over five of Hamilton’s six championships, but he declined to be drawn into declaring him as the greatest.
Instead, Wolff said his record put him on a par with all of the dominant champions of previous eras.
“He’s on a par with Michael (Schumacher) who for me, personally, was the greatest driver in F1. Lewis is still in his career and he can maybe achieve more in terms of the sheer record.”