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Ex-Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone claims Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has become "fed up" with Lewis Hamilton, and has tipped the seven-time world champion to quit the sport before his contract is up.
Hamilton's future was the subject of intense speculation after his controversial runner-up finish in the 2021 world championship standings, before the 37-year-old agreed to a two-year contract extension in the lead-up to this season.
However, Ecclestone doubts whether Hamilton will see out the deal after admitting that it might be in the best interests of the driver and his team, to go their separate ways after the 2022 season.
The Briton has struggled in the new-look Mercedes car this year, and has been one of the most vocal critics of the new-for-2022 phenomenon of porpoising, which sees the current design of cars bouncing on their suspension at high speed.
Hamilton complained of excruciating back pain in the wake of the Azerbaijan GP, which he described as the most brutal race of his career.
While Hamilton did manage to grab a podium place in front of Mercedes teammate George Russell at the Canadian Grand Prix recently, it was one of the few occasions this year that he's come out on top against his younger compatriot.
In fact, out of the nine races so far this year, Russell has finished as the leading Mercedes driver in seven of them - to sit fourth in the drivers' standings.
Hamilton, by contrast, is sixth in the world championship standings and faces the prospect of finishing outside the top-five for the first time in his glittering 15-year career, unless he can turn things around.
Ecclestone says he suspects that part of the problem is that Hamilton no longer has the same passion for the sport that he once had.
“I didn’t think [Russell] was that good but he has done an excellent job,” Ecclestone commented.
“I’m surprised. Or is it a case of Lewis doing a bad job? A bit of both.”
Lewis Hamilton struggling with Mercedes in 2022
The 91-year-old former F1 head says it would not come as a shock to him if Hamilton approached Wolff about calling it quits after this season.
“Lewis might sell his position to Toto,” Ecclestone told the Daily Mail.
“‘This is how much I am getting, I’ll step down and give me half of what I would get’ – Toto can go and do one of his magic deals, offer someone less money, and keep £20 million.
“Nobody needs to tell Toto this because he has already thought of it. Lewis would probably stop under those circumstances."
Wolff has made no secret of his unhappiness at the car Mercedes have provided for Hamilton this year, even going so far as to brand it a “s**tbox” earlier in the season.
However, Ecclestone says the Mercedes boss must be "fed up" with what he sees as a lack of effort on Hamilton's part and a nonchalant attitude towards losing.
“Toto is getting a bit fed up with Lewis. I don’t think he’s trying, do you?” he questioned.
“Let’s put it another way, Lewis doesn’t seem bothered about losing.
“It’s not like him. He has a competitive nature but he’s taking losing a bit easy for my liking.
“I don’t think he is actively helping George. I don’t think he’s doing anything. I don’t think he cares too much. He’s not prepared to put the effort into winning that he did.”
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