Toto Wolff plays down impact of ‘just please drive it’ remark to Lewis Hamilton

By Sports Desk July 02, 2023

Toto Wolff insists his public rebuke of Lewis Hamilton at the Austrian Grand Prix will have no impact on the British driver’s Mercedes future.

As Max Verstappen racked up his seventh victory from nine rounds with a crushing performance at Red Bull’s home race in Spielberg to extend his championship lead to 81 points, Hamilton crossed the line a disappointing seventh.

Hamilton was the first of six drivers to be penalised by race director Niels Wittich for exceeding track limits.

He then spent the remainder of the race asking why some of his rivals – namely Sergio Perez – had not been sanctioned, and also lambasted the speed of his under-performing Mercedes machine.

Wolff rarely speaks to his drivers over the radio, but was on the intercom twice to Hamilton during Sunday’s race.

“Lewis, the car is bad, we know,” said Wolff on his second appearance over the airwaves. “Just please drive it.”

The dressing down might have stung Hamilton. Asked what provoked Wolff to deliver the remark, Hamilton’s answer was short, and not-so-sweet.

“I don’t know,” he said. “You will have to ask him.”

Hamilton has six months remaining on his £40million-a-season deal. Might the exchange have a bearing on negotiations?

“No, not at all,” said Wolff. “You should hear us talking on the phone and meeting each other. That was nothing.

“We have had a bad weekend, all of us in the team, and that just makes us stronger.

“It was only for the best interest of the driver and the team. Sometimes there is a certain moment when you need to calm things down but I meant well.

“We had a lot of discussion about track limits and whether they were enforced or not.

“I wanted to make sure we were getting the best out of the package that wasn’t performing, and trying to give it our best shot.”

It has been a difficult weekend for Mercedes in Austria. Hamilton was 10th in the Sprint on Saturday, while team-mate George Russell finished eighth in both the shortened race and the main event.

Hamilton’s losing streak now extends to 32 races and Wolff – despite suggesting on June 12 that his superstar driver’s next contract would be signed in “days rather than weeks” – confirmed that there will be no news of an extension at Silverstone this weekend.

“I am still very confident it will get done,” added Wolff. “We want to do it super, and to every detail.

“This is not a money discussion. It is about the future, what is it that we want to do right, and then optimise.

“We are not talking anymore about money, or duration, it is about other topics.”

Asked how long Hamilton’s next deal will be, Wolff replied: “For a while. The Brits say a couple means two, and the Americans say a couple means a few, so it is somewhere there. Several.”

The day began strongly for Hamilton. He started fifth and leapfrogged Lando Norris at the opening corner. But he soon faced the wrath of race control for putting all four wheels of his Mercedes over the white line on three separate occasions.

He was penalised with a black-and-white warning flag on lap 12, and then hit with a five-second penalty five laps later.

Hamilton took his punishment at his second pit stop on lap 43, dropping him to eighth place.

He moved up one spot when Pierre Gasly stopped for tyres but failed to make any impression on Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, crossing the line half-a-minute back.

“The feeling with the car was the same as I had last year,” said Hamilton. “I didn’t expect to be as bad as we were today. It is surprising.”

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finished second for Ferrari, while Perez raced from 15th to third, passing Carlos Sainz with 10 laps to go.

Norris ended the day in fifth to record his best result of a difficult season for his under-performing McLaren team.

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