Hamilton distancing himself from Wolff after he ‘damaged his reputation’

Sir Lewis Hamilton was denied his record eighth Formula 1 world championship in controversial fashion in 2021.

Former Formula 1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve believes that Toto Wolff’s reaction to Sir Lewis Hamilton’s championship defeat last year has harmed his image.

Hamilton was beaten by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the final round of the season in Abu Dhabi following a highly contentious Safety Car restart by race director Michael Masi, drawing ire from Mercedes.

Masi opted to renege on an earlier decision to hold all lapped runners in position late on at the Yas Marina Circuit by only permitting the five between leader Hamilton and second-placed Verstappen through.

READ: Wolff says FIA can’t ‘freestyle’ the rules as he calls for action ‘not just words’

As a result, Verstappen passed his rival on the final lap to claim his maiden championship in remarkable circumstances.

Wolff was on the radio to the Australian to declare that the end to the championship was “so not right,” while Hamilton exclaimed that the race had been “manipulated” before congratulating his rival immediately after the grand prix.

Mercedes protested the stewarding decisions that led to the last lap drama before eventually dropping an appeal, with rumours spreading that they had agreed a deal with the FIA to remove Masi from his position.

This has, however, reportedly been denied by Mercedes.

The 37-year-old has been silent on social media since the events of the 2021 finale, sparking reports that he is considering leaving Formula 1 ahead of the 2022 season.

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In response to this, the Brackley-based team’s principal suggested that he and his driver have become “disillusioned” with the sport, and gave no guarantees that the Briton will be on the grid this year.

Villeneuve, however, does not believe that Hamilton’s silence is an indication of an impending retirement, instead accrediting it to a desire to separate himself from Wolff’s reaction.

“I interpret his silence as a way of distancing himself from Wolff,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“After all, you can lose in style, but instead Toto behaves like someone who loses a game of Monopoly and then flips the board.”

The Canadian added that he reckons that Wolff has “damaged his reputation” in the last month or so.

“In my view, he has damaged his reputation in doing so. Hamilton is wise in this, because he is thinking about his future,” added Villeneuve.

The former Williams driver opines that the seven-time world champion, in remaining quiet, is protecting his long-term interests which he thinks include a career in Hollywood.

Lewis Hamilton in Saudi Arabia, 2021.v1

“Hamilton is sensitive to that because he is thinking about his future in America, maybe even in Hollywood,” he suggested.

Should Hamilton return this year, he will be partnered at Mercedes by George Russell, who has signed from Williams to replace the departing Valtteri Bottas.

The new season gets underway in Bahrain on 20 March following two pre-season tests in Barcelona and the Sakhir International Circuit.

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