Toto Wolff says Lewis Hamilton could well race on with Mercedes beyond 2021 but insists its star driver will need to decide at some point "what his future holds for him".
The news on Monday of Hamilton extending his association with Mercedes was anything but a surprise. However, the one-year term of the seven-time world champion's deal was unexpected and had generated more questions than answers.
Wolff said the short duration of the new contract reflected a series of uncertainties hovering on the horizon for Mercedes regarding the global economy and the company's ongoing paradigm shift towards electric mobility.
The explanation implies that Hamilton was likely seeking a longer deal, which in turn suggests that the Briton was perhaps the losing party in the lengthy negotiations.
"It’s an unusual announcement for such a team and such a driver it must be said," commented Sky F1's Martin Brundle.
"Clearly at least one of the parties wanted to keep their options open going forward. I suspect that was Mercedes-Benz, and so they put it to bed for this year, and then they are saying that they will sort 2022 out somewhat earlier."
Indeed, Wolff said on Monday that talks over 2022 would kick off "much earlier".
"Valtteri and Lewis have our 100 per cent commitment and loyalty for 2021, we will support them with everything we have," explained the Mercedes boss.
"We will then look beyond this year and say: 'what is the line-up that we imagine in 2022 and onwards?'
"Our first discussions are going to be with Valtteri and Lewis in respecting our values of loyalty and integrity but on the other side the young drivers are the future and therefore we need to consider how we want to set ourselves up for the years beyond."
Wolff's suggestive words will have certainly done no harm to George Russell's prospects of moving to Mercedes in twelve months to pick up the mantle from Hamilton.
Yet Wolff isn't dismissing another inning for Mercedes star driver.
"As long as he enjoys racing, I think he's very capable of going longer," said Wolff.
"He develops as a driver he looks after himself in terms of physical training and mental preparation, so I don't think in terms of ability that ends in 2021. But at the end it's his decision.
"Lewis needs to decide what his future holds for him.
"The team needs to decide in the long term what we want to do about drivers."