In a wide-ranging interview with The Daily Mail, Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali talked about the next move for Lewis Hamilton, the growth of the sport and drivers’ frustrations with some recent changes, and even the future of F1 itself.
The comments drawing the most attention focus on recent changes to the sport, and pushback from drivers. Most notably, defending world champion Max Verstappen expressed his frustration with the schedule, including the number of sprint races on the calendar this season.
Ahead of the Australian Grand Prix Verstappen stated the he “won’t be around for too long” if F1 kept adding to the schedule. Then before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the first sprint race of the season, Verstappen went further. “I always said that anyway, even if there won’t be any more sprint races or whatever,” he said. “But yeah, I do feel that if it’s getting at one point too much, it’s time for a change.”
Domenicali addressed those comments, making that case that the drivers, and the entire sport, cannot be complacent with the status quo as they look to grow F1. He also outlined that he is not worried about Verstappen leaving anytime soon.
“I don’t want a society in which people cannot say what they want,’ the CEO said to The Daily Mail. “But drivers sometimes need to remember that they are part of a broader picture. We don’t need to be selfish.”
Domenicali noted that some of the changes are part of F1’s plan to draw in a new, diverse audience.
“[The drivers] are part of this sport and this business, and it grows because we are thinking bigger. Sometimes being out of our comfort zone is not easy, but we cannot be lazy or complacent – just as we can review some of the specifics of the sprint weekend format at the end of the season once we have tried it out on the intended six occasions. We won’t have sprints every weekend, either,” he added. “But we have a new audience and need to provide value for money every session, not let everyone drive around in circles for the sole benefit of engineers and drivers.”
As for Verstappen leaving, Domenicali believes the champion will outlast him in F1.
“I discussed the issues with Max [before the Miami GP]. He said he loved the sport and what he was doing. He is world champion and is fighting for a third title,” added Domenicali. “He was born in a car. I would say he is likely to stay longer than me. It’s not a problem.”
Perhaps the most eye-raising part of Domenicali’s interview with The Daily Mail involved the contract status of Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes driver is set to see his contract with the team expire at the end of 2023, a fact which has fueled much speculation regarding his future. Team President Toto Wolff expressed confidence in reaching an extension with Hamilton earlier this month. “And we’re, we’re working on this. It’s a work in progress, bouncing emails back and forth,” said Wolff at the start of May. “And eventually we’re going to sign it.”
The Daily Mail asked the F1 boss whether Hamilton should stay with Mercedes, move to another team, or even retire. Domenicali was adamant that Hamilton should remain on the grid, with a nod to Mercedes.
“I’d like him to stay in the sport 100 percent, 100 percent. 1,000 percent!” declared Domenicali.
“I don’t want to give Lewis any advice because that would be disrespectful to Toto. And Lewis has such deep experience that I’m sure he doesn’t need my input because he knows what he wants,” said the F1 boss. “He loves our sport. He has been in it since he was a child. Now his role in F1 is getting bigger than an F1 world champion, given the way he gets involved in a lot of things outside the sport and takes an active role in society. He takes us towards new dimensions.”
Then came the nod to the Silver Arrows.
“But his love is Formula One, and, of course, he wants to achieve his dream of being the only driver to have won an eighth title,” Domenicali added. “Toto is totally focused on making Mercedes improve. He told me he made adjustments within the team to be sure that there is the right intensity to gain performance as soon as possible. I am sure this will happen very, very soon.”
However, those comments come as a report from The Daily Mail itself indicates that Ferrari is preparing a shock offer to lure Hamilton to the Scuderia:
Mail Sport understands the Italian team are willing to break the bank to land the superstar in a £40million deal, and offer him the opportunity to eclipse the Scuderia’s greatest hero, Michael Schumacher, who won five of his seven titles with them.
Conversations over the extravagant signing are not only advancing at the highest level in Ferrari, but company president John Elkann is already in close contact with Hamilton.
However the Hamilton situation unfolds, Domenicali is clear about one thing: The future of F1 is bright, and the sport knows who needs to be leading the way.
“There’s a great future for Formula One,” said Domenicali to The Daily Mail. “[A]nd I think they know who must take the decisions.”
Note: This piece has been updated to provide further context regarding Mr. Domenicali’s comments.