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Behind the tears, Hamilton and Wolff are moving on – separately

Make no mistake, Mercedes is back in the Formula 1 game.

It took a while to truly believe McLaren could be a contender at every venue when it started finding performance last year, and the Miami upgrade this season cemented its place at the top table. But still there have been occasions that Red Bull’s raw pace has been unlocked and proven to be out of reach for spells of races.

But now it’s not just McLaren that puts itself in positions to win races and show performance that can trouble Red Bull, with Mercedes clearly quick enough in Canada, solid if unspectacular in Spain and Austria, and the fastest car for big chunks of the Silverstone weekend.

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When it’s this close, the form book will always fluctuate. It happened even during the race on Sunday as one moment the Mercedes looked comfortably quickest, then it was the McLaren in changing conditions, then from nowhere Max Verstappen was making the hard tire work and climbing back into contention.

Yet it was vintage Lewis Hamilton that sealed victory, as he timed his final pit stop perfectly, took on a soft tire that was going to give him the best chance of winning, and then made it last far better than the McLaren of Lando Norris that was trying to chase him down.

Don’t forget it has been McLaren that has looked best at tire usage in recent races, but Hamilton has always had that touch, he’s just rarely had the clear air and victory in his sights to show it since the end of 2021.

Hamilton might not have had the fastest car at Silverstone, but he provided another example of what he can do when opportunities present themselves. Zak Mauger/Motorsport Images

A record ninth victory at Silverstone — breaking a tie with Michael Schumacher’s eight at Magny-Cours — extends his overall mark of 104 race wins and sets a new record for the biggest gap between first and last wins. With Sunday’s sort of performance, you’d be brave to suggest he won’t keep pushing those milestones even further.

While it was particularly notable how much it meant to Hamilton as he broke down in tears over team radio afterwards and emotionally embraced his family in parc ferme — taking them to the fan stage with him following the race, too — there was another reaction that was equally eye-catching. And that was from his team principal Toto Wolff.

Hamilton and Wolff used to be a formidable pairing. After the departure of Nico Rosberg at the end of 2016, the pair felt almost unstoppable as Wolff oversaw the ongoing dominance of Mercedes and Hamilton brilliantly utilized the machinery he had at his disposal. When he made the difference, Wolff let the world know, and the pair’s clear faith in each other was regularly on display.

That partnership is reaching its conclusion, though, and it was actually when emotions were heightened after a major success that it became clear just how the impending split had changed the dynamic.

Hamilton’s tears were matched by the outpouring of delight from his race engineer Peter Bonnington, but then came a calm and controlled message over the radio from Wolff:

“Lewis, we will prevail, we never give up, and what a sign-off for our joint-trajectory here at the British Grand Prix. We couldn’t wish for anything better.”

The words were met with silence from Hamilton, not even an acknowledgement of the comments. Perhaps he was still too emotional to respond, but the original message was notable for its lack of praise or congratulations, and so the absence of a reply also stood out.

It’s not a criticism of either side, but it’s a reminder of the fact that this is a collaboration that both feel has run its course. Hamilton was upset with Mercedes’ lack of commitment to him in recent contract negotiations, leaving the door open to replace him by only offering a one-year deal with the option for a second year that either side could choose not to invoke.

When Ferrari came knocking with a far greater show of faith in a longer-term future — for a variety of reasons — then Hamilton was the one who activated that release clause and chose to start a new chapter in his career.

It was a decision that has left Wolff trying to find the right partner for George Russell, and while he has been understandably coveting Max Verstappen for so long, the growing inclusion of Carlos Sainz’s name back into a mix that also includes rookie Andrea Kimi Antonelli shows a succession plan was not quite yet in place, or at the very least not yet ready to be implemented.

It has left Wolff on the back foot, and not in a position to be the one to call the shots on his driver lineup for 2025. Hamilton forced him into a change that wasn’t yet ready to be made from the team’s side, even if Wolff knew the day was going to come at some stage.

Like Hamilton, Wolff is a serial winner, and the pair have a very strong focus on the future. Knowing that the future no longer involves each other beyond the end of this season has certainly weakened the bond between a driver and team that have been synonymous with each other, and with success, over the past decade.

But even though that became even more clear as a result of the win at Silverstone, the impressive performance also displays the underlying strength of a Hamilton-Mercedes combination when the car gives the seven-time world champion a chance of victory.

For the partnership to remain as amicable and positive as possible between now and the end of the year, Mercedes will need to continue on the current trajectory that has it fighting for wins once again. Although that will likely lead to some tough moments between two drivers who have shown their race-winning abilities over the past two weekends, it is the main motivating factor behind both Hamilton and Wolff’s raison d’être.

There might be more wins ahead, and tears again when the era finally comes to an end in Abu Dhabi, but Silverstone showed the sentimentality between the two only extends so far. It never made them successful in the past, and they’re both so focused on becoming champions again in the future that neither is going to change that now.

Story originally appeared on Racer