“I think what I've always tried to do as a Team Principal, and all of us at Mercedes, is to be transparent and fair,” Wolff told media including RacingNews365 last week.
“And nothing's going to change in that respect in 2024. We owe it to our principles and our racing intent, how we go about - we will respect that.
“I will be sure that the drivers will respect it.”
That's how Wolff will be managing Hamilton and Russell in 2024, with nothing set to change despite the seven-time World Champion departing to rivals Ferrari next year.
Hamilton shocked the world at the start of February by revealing that he'd signed a multi-year contract with Ferrari starting in 2025, as a result of activating an exit clause in his new two-year Mercedes deal.
This year will be the 39-year-old's 12th and final season with the Silver Arrows and his last chance at securing his eighth Drivers' Championship prior to moving to Maranello. It's a move nobody saw coming, let alone the Brackley-based team, who have a conundrum to solve.
Knowing that Hamilton is leaving at the end of this year puts Wolff in a tricky position, as he has to begin planning for a future without the Stevenage-born driver. At the same time, he needs to ensure that both drivers have a strong package this year.
Given that this year's calendar consists of a record-breaking 24 races, Mercedes will still need to communicate with Hamilton to develop the W15. But will the German manufacturer want to be working so closely with a driver about to join one of their biggest opponents?
Because of this, is now the right time to prioritise Russell, considering that he will likely lead Mercedes in 2025 and beyond, especially if teenage F2 sensation Andrea Kimi Antonelli is promoted to replace Hamilton?
Using 2024 as a trial run
Whilst Russell had an underwhelming 2023 campaign which saw him finish five places behind Hamilton in the Drivers' Championship, he proved in his maiden Mercedes season a year prior that he can lead the side.
In 2022, Russell became just the third teammate of Hamilton's to finish above him in the standings. On top of this, he secured Mercedes' only pole position and victory.
When given a car he's comfortable in, Russell can contest for pole positions, podiums and victories; however, at least at Mercedes, he's never been solely responsible for developing a car.
Should Antonelli replace Hamilton, then the Silver Arrows will need to rely on Russell to support the engineers in developing their 2025 F1 challenger, as Antonelli simply won't have the experience yet and will need nurturing.
Mercedes, in theory, could use 2024 to get Russell used to making the key decisions so that he'll know exactly how to lead the side into the future when Hamilton leaves.
At the same time though, would the Germans be ridiculous for not listening to Hamilton's feedback? The 103-time race winner is, statistically, the greatest F1 driver of all time.
Hamilton's input could be the difference in Mercedes winning a race this year or not, something he personally hasn't achieved since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Viewed by others:
Wolff can't win
In many ways, Wolff can't win no matter what decision he makes. If he treats both drivers as equals, then he's not giving Russell a dummy run at leading the team, but if he prioritises the ex-Williams driver, then Mercedes will lose potentially their last chance at receiving input from a seven-time World Champion.
With the new power unit regulations just around the corner, it could also be argued that it doesn't matter whether either driver is prioritised, as the cars are going to change so drastically in 2026.
Unless something truly outrageous happens, Red Bull aren't going to be dethroned before the new regulations are introduced either. The Austrians and Max Verstappen are simply too superior, as proven by the outfit winning 21 of the 22 races last season.
Theoretically, Wolff could treat both drivers as equals on track this year but be prioritising Russell behind-the-scenes, as it's him who'll presumably be driving for them in 2026 – his contract expires in 2025.
Hamilton's knowledge and experience is simply invaluable though, and ignoring him would potentially be a bigger mistake by Mercedes than introducing the 'zero-pod' design philosophy in 2022.
His departure is definitely going to result in Wolff having to answer several questions, whilst the Austrian will be doing his all to avoid any problems that don't currently exist. A smooth transition away from Hamilton is important for Mercedes, to ensure that their 26-year relationship ends on good terms.
In this article