Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone believes that Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is "getting a bit fed up" with Lewis Hamilton, suggesting the seven-time world champion is "taking losing a bit easy".
Hamilton is unarguably enduring his toughest season in F1 since his debut in the sport in 2007, the victim of the complex aerodynamic issues that have impacted Mercedes' new-generation car.
After years of hegemonic domination in Grand Prix racing marked by eight consecutive Constructors' titles, Mercedes has been relegated this season to F1's midfield by its car's porpoising and bouncing problems, by-products of sport's new regulations.
Hamilton has so far collected a pair of third-place finishes as his best results. But in addition to dealing with his car's vagaries, the Briton is also contending with his talented Mercedes teammate George Russell who has outperformed his elder since the start of the year.
Given Hamilton's current plight, Ecclestone isn't dismissing the 37-year-old walking away from the sport at the end of the season, or a year before his current contract with Mercedes - worth an estimated £40 million a year - is set to expire.
"Lewis might sell his position to Toto. 'This is how much I am getting, I'll step down and give me half of what I would get'," Ecclestone told the Daily Mail's Jonathan McEvoy.
"Toto can go and do one of his magic deals, offer someone less money and keep £20m.
"Nobody needs to tell Toto this because he has already thought of it. Lewis would probably stop under those circumstances.
"I don't know what he is doing dressing up in all those funny clothes. Has he a deal to it? Is it to get noticed? Maybe that's it."
Ecclestone admitted to being surprised by Russell's performance at Mercedes relative to Hamilton, but suggests the young gun is also being seen in a favourable light because Hamilton "is not trying".
"I didn't think he [Russell] was that good but he has done an excellent job, I'm surprised. Or is it a case of Lewis doing a bad job? A bit of both.
"Toto is getting a bit fed up with Lewis. I don't think he's trying, do you? 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."
In Azerbaijan earlier this month where Russell and Hamilton finished respectively third and forth, the latter claimed to have endured one of the most tormenting races in his career due to his car's bouncing and bottoming which left him battered and bruised at the end of the day, and with an acute case of backpain.
But Mr. E called Hamilton's bluff, suggesting that the Briton's painful exit from his cockpit after the race was mere theatrics.
"All bullshit," said a merciless Ecclestone. "George is taller and if it was going to happen to anyone it would have happened to him.
"There was a bit of Nigel Mansell about it. At least with Nigel, he would get out of the car and rub his left leg as if he had broken it. Next moment, it would be his right leg!"
For all his criticism of Hamilton, Ecclestone insists F1 needs characters like the Briton, although the 91-year-old wouldn't give Grand Prix racing's superstar a free pass when it comes to the sport's regulations, or specifically the FIA's decision to impose a ban on jewellery worn by drivers while they are out on track.
Regarding Hamilton's heavy array of gems and jewels, the governing has so far been lenient towards the Mercedes driver.
"Because of the ways Lewis acts, he is a character, whether you like it or not," commented Ecclestone.
"He is black, which is good and he is different from all the other drivers in many ways, which is also good.
"We need characters. If he wants something in his nose, that's fine by me. Whatever he wants. He wears all these bloody clothes. It's wonderful.
"He is doing it for him, not for Formula One. The danger is that people speak more about Lewis than Formula One. You write about him. But I feel these are the rules and that has to be that.
"End of story. Because if I were a driver and went over the white lines and got a time penalty, I'd say, 'You sort out this guy properly according to the rules and then you can sort me out, otherwise, shut your mouth. They are rules, not maybes'.
"I'd say if you can't take them out, no problem, you're just not driving a car with them in, that's all. When the drivers used to say to me, 'We can't race in this weather', I'd say, 'OK, you don't have to'.
"I remember Alain Prost coming up to me saying it was dangerous and somebody would get killed.
"I said, 'Well, we're starting at 2pm as usual, but you don't need to race if you don't want to'.
"I also remember Michele Alboreto saying the same, that someone would get killed and I told him, 'Well, you might win for a change'. It's simple. Nobody takes these things head on as they are."