F1 boss Domenicali urges Lewis Hamilton to continue striving for glory

‘His role is bigger than a world champion’: F1 boss Stefano Domenicali urges Lewis Hamilton to keep going for his eighth title, slams ‘selfish’ drivers after Max Verstappen threatened to quit and discusses the tragic flood in Imola

  • Stefano Domenicali believes Lewis Hamilton is bigger than a world champion
  • The F1 boss has also slapped back following criticism from some of the drivers
  • Max Verstappen threatened to quit following the newly introduced sprint format

Stefano Domenicali does the job Bernie Ecclestone made famous. That is to say he is Formula One chief executive, its head honcho.

And he wants it known that, as was the case with his predecessor: ‘The buck stops with me.’

Those five words contained an implicit rebuke to the sport’s highly paid drivers, some of whom criticised the new sprint format introduced in Azerbaijan last month.

World champion Max Verstappen even threatened to quit if such a schedule persisted – Saturday given over to sprint qualifying followed by the sprint race – claiming the sport’s DNA was being violated. Others spoke out against some very American razzmatazz on the pre-race grid in Miami a fortnight ago.

‘I don’t want a society in which people cannot say what they want,’ the Italian tells Mail Sport in his most forthright interview since taking over from the moustachioed Chase Carey two years ago. ‘But drivers sometimes need to remember that they are part of a broader picture. We don’t need to be selfish.

F1 boss Stefano Domenicali has hit back following criticism of the new sprint format introduced in Azerbaijan last month

Reigning world champion Max Verstappen threatened to quit if such a schedule persisted

‘They 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.

‘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 losing Marauding Max, wouldn’t that be a blow to the show?

‘I discussed the issues with Max (before the last race in Miami). He said he loved the sport and what he was doing. He is world champion and is fighting for a third title. He was born in a car. I would say he is likely to stay longer than me. It’s not a problem.’

Domenicali demonstrated authority over his £2billion-a-year business last week when he briskly called off what would have been today’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix in Imola in response to the near-apocalyptic flooding in the region of his birth.

He had travelled out to northern Italy on Tuesday to assess the destruction at first hand soon after the red-alert warning was sounded, staying with his parents and hearing the rain tip down on the family house as he tried to sleep that night.

Next morning he called together the relevant parties and cancelled the event, forfeiting £15million-plus in hosting fees.

The situation was especially emotional for him because, as a boy, Domenicali worked on the car parks at Imola, directing the likes of Ecclestone to their reserved places, and studied for a business administration degree in Bologna, capital city of Emilia-Romagna, where at least 14 have died. Twenty-one rivers have burst their banks and several towns are submerged.

This weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was called off due to extreme rain in Imola

Houses were see nearly completely submerged in the flooded water in Ponte delle Grazie

The situation was especially emotional for Domenicali because, as a boy, he worked on the car parks at Imola

‘It is a calamity, including for friends and family,’ he says. ‘I know a lot of people who lost everything – the house, the car. As is the case with members of AlphaTauri (the Red Bull sister team with a factory at nearby Faenza). The team are doing an incredible job to help them, and we’ll do the same.’

Formula One donated €1million towards alleviating the disaster.

One doubt aired about the 58-year-old Domenicali, the last title-winning Ferrari team principal, is that he is ‘too nice’ to rule F1’s piranhas. Yet, no doubt to dispel the notion, he demonstrates his understanding of power play before we sit down to talk in his office on the fifth floor of his HQ off Regent Street.

He points out the chair opposite his desk is deliberately designed too narrow and too hard for visitors to sit comfortably, and little egg timers, beautifully presented, that can be deployed, however jocularly or menacingly, to give guests, say, five minutes to spit out their arguments and go.

But he kindly dispenses with the apparatus of mild torture, and we sit instead on a couple of armchairs by the side.

After the gravity of Imola, we move on to other topics. One is Lewis Hamilton, with whom Domenicali developed a decent relationship after the Briton lost the title so agonisingly to Verstappen in Abu Dhabi two years ago. Their understanding was founded on shared experience of last-day woes, for Hamilton’s first championship success in 2008 came at the final bend at the expense of his man, Felipe Massa.

So should Hamilton, aged 38: a) stick at Mercedes; b) seek a drive elsewhere; or c) retire?

‘I’d like him to stay in the sport 100 per cent, 100pc– 1,000pc!’ declares Domenicali.

Domenicali urges Lewis Hamilton to continue pushing for an eigth world championship win

The F1 boss believes Hamilton, 38, has become bigger than a world champion of the sport

‘I don’t want to give Lewis any advice because that would be disrespectful to Toto (Wolff, Mercedes’ team principal). And Lewis has such deep experience that I’m sure he doesn’t need my input because he knows what he wants.

‘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.

‘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.

‘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.’

Whatever ending is written to the great Hamilton story. He talks glowingly of Lewis’s team-mate George Russell as a ‘protagonist’ for the title in years to come. He is aged 25, as is Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. McLaren’s British hope Lando Norris is just 23.

‘There’s a great future for Formula One,’ says Domenicali, adding with half a smile, ‘and I think they know who must take the decisions.’

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