Lewis Hamilton’s boss Toto Wolff has admitted there is a 25 per cent chance his star driver will leave Mercedes and join Ferrari.
Hamilton’s future has been the subject of fevered debate at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.
And in the moments after driving faultlessly to an 11th victory of the season, Hamilton refused to deny that he had already met with Ferrari chairman John Elkann on two occasions this year.
“Naturally, everything that happens behind closed doors is always private with whoever you end up sitting with,” he said.
Hamilton, who is 35 next month, has one more season to run on his £40million-a-year Mercedes contract.
Asked what percentage he would put on Hamilton staying with the Silver Arrows in 2021, Wolff, who has overseen five of Hamilton’s six world championship triumphs, replied: “I am leaning myself out of the window here, and I would rate it at 75 per cent.
“I hope that our relationship continues but there is a 25 per cent chance we are not in control of.
“A sports team is not static. It is dynamic. That means there is always going to be change, and change can provide opportunity.
“If one important member of the team breaks out, that provides risk, but also an opportunity at the same time.”
Wolff’s own future with Mercedes is also uncertain.
The 47-year-old Austrian, who is a leading candidate to run the sport in 2021, skipped the penultimate round of the year in Brazil – the first race he has missed during his seven-season tenure with Mercedes.
Wolff hinted on Sunday night that he is prepared to miss further races next year, too.
“I know Toto is looking at his options in terms of his own future,” added Hamilton. “Only he knows what is the best thing for him and his family. So, I am waiting to see what he is doing with that.
“I love where I am so it is definitely not a quick decision to do something else. But it is only smart and wise for me to sit and think of what I want if it is the last stage of my career.”
While the prestige of Ferrari might be hard for Hamilton to resist, so too is the unbeatable combination he has served up with Mercedes in recent years.
His romp to the chequered flag under the lights of the Yas Marina Circuit, beating Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by 17 seconds, was his 63rd with the Silver Arrows, his 84th in all.
He has now moved to within just seven victories of Michael Schumacher’s all-time record.
Hamilton, who claimed his most recent title with two races to spare, is the only driver to have scored points at all 21 races this term.
He has seven more wins than anyone else in 2019, and his points total of 413 is the greatest recorded by any driver, beating his previous record from two years ago by five.
Verstappen finished runner-up after a fine move on Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. Verstappen’s drive to second cemented his third place in the championship standings behind Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Leclerc finished third but his position was under threat after he was summoned to see the stewards after the race following an alleged fuel irregularity.
Following the stewards’ investigation, Ferrari were found to have declared an inaccurate fuel reading in Leclerc’s car.
The Monegasque kept third place, but his team were fined £43,000 for the rules breach.