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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has said the timing of Lewis Hamilton’s decision to leave for Ferrari “bit us a bit” – but insists there is “no grudge” between them.

Wolff said he had heard rumours that Hamilton might quit the team but didn’t know for sure until the F1 great confirmed it in a meeting over breakfast on Wednesday at Wolff’s home in Oxford.

The British driver is leaving Mercedes at the end of the upcoming season to join Ferrari for 2025 in a move announced on Thursday.

The Austrian told reporters that Hamilton‘s decision had come too late for them to look at some obvious contenders to replace him, with McLaren’s Lando Norris and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc signing new contracts last month.

“The timing bit us a bit,” he said.

Hamilton, from Stevenage, has raced for Mercedes since 2013 and won six of his seven world titles with the team.

“The surprise was that I’ve heard the rumours a couple of days earlier but wanted to wait for the breakfast we had planned, and it was Wednesday morning, and this is when he broke the news,” Wolff said.

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“But, you know, you can be very straightforward with me because I’m very straightforward too. So once he said, ‘This is what I’m trying to do,’ that was the fact. I didn’t try to convince him otherwise.”

Wolff added that he still considers Hamilton a friend. “In the future, we will discuss whether this could have been done in a different way or not, but I hold no grudge.”

In a glimpse into the shock within the wider Mercedes team, Wolff said Hamilton’s long-time race engineer Peter Bonnington – known as “Bono” in their conversations over the radio during races – replied “Is it April 1?” when told Hamilton would leave.

Hamilton only finalised a two-year extension with Mercedes at the end of August but is activating a release clause that allows him to leave after a year.

Wolff said the fact Hamilton was seeking a new challenge wasn’t a surprise but the timing was.

He suggested Hamilton might be “rolling the dice” as the 39-year-old driver seeks another shot at what would be his eighth F1 title.

“We knew that by signing a short-term contract, it could be of benefit for both sides. We couldn’t commit for a longer period and he is taking the option to exit. We totally respect that you can change your mind, it’s different circumstances,” he said.

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Formula One F1 - Las Vegas Grand Prix - Las Vegas Strip Circuit, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. - November 15, 2023 Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during press conference REUTERS/Mike Blake
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Lewis Hamilton won six world titles with Mercedes

Mercedes can now take its time deciding on a new driver to partner George Russell for next year, Wolff added.

He likened Mercedes’ need for a new driver to dealing with the sudden departure in 2016 of Hamilton’s then-teammate Nico Rosberg, who retired from F1 days after winning the title.

“I always like change because change provides you opportunity, and in the same way we’ve embraced the Nico situation,” he said. “And that was equally like from one moment to the other, unexpected.”

Hamilton has not won a race since 2021, when he narrowly – and controversially – missed out on the title to Max Verstappen at the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Mercedes struggled to adapt to new “ground effect” aerodynamics reintroduced for 2022 and Russell’s victory in Sao Paulo that year is the team’s only win since then.

In 2026 – which would be Hamilton’s second season of a “multi-year” deal with Ferrari – a new set of rules is expected to shake up the grid.

Wolff said he has no concerns about involving Hamilton with Mercedes’ car development, even with Hamilton due to join a rival. “I don’t have any doubt in Lewis’ integrity in terms of sharing information,” Wolff said.

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‘I despise the PM’: George Galloway hits back at ‘little’ Rishi Sunak after Rochdale win called ‘alarming’

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'I despise the PM': George Galloway hits back at 'little' Rishi Sunak after Rochdale win called 'alarming'

George Galloway told Sky News he “despises” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak when asked about the prime minister’s speech condemning extremism.

The Workers Party of Britain leader won the Rochdale by-election with 12,335 votes – more than 5,000 votes over second placed independent David Tully – and focused much of his campaign on the plight of Palestinians in Gaza.

But in Mr Sunak’s speech outside Downing Street, he said Mr Galloway returning to parliament is “beyond alarming”, saying the new MP “dismisses the horror of what happened on 7 October” and “glorifies Hezbollah”.

Follow latest: PM rails against ‘extremist forces’

When asked by Sky News’ Sam Coates if he respected Mr Sunak, the Rochdale MP fired back: “I despise the prime minister.

“And guess what? Millions and millions and millions of people in this country despise the prime minister.

“I do not respect the prime minister at all.”

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‘Little’ Rishi Sunak

Speaking in his campaign office, Mr Galloway also dismissed the prime minister’s concerns, instead talking up his win on Thursday night.

“I’ve got the democratic mandate here, not Rishi Sunak,” he said, “so don’t put to me statements made by Rishi Sunak as if I’m meant to be impressed by them.

“He [doesn’t] impress me much.”

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George Galloway speaks after Rishi Sunak's speech against extremism.
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‘I’ve got the democratic mandate here, not Rishi Sunak’, Galloway told Sky News

He also colourfully described the prime minister as the “little” Tory leader, and added: “The prime minister is a rather diminutive, diminished and degraded politician.

“He made a party political statement. I don’t care about Rishi Sunak’s attitude. What I care about is that the returning officer, a man of unimpeachable integrity I’m sure you’ll agree, declared it a free and fair election and me as the winner.

“And Rishi Sunak is one of the crushed two big parties in the state.”

‘Suck it up’

The prime minister was not alone in his concerns about the former Labour MP’s return to the House of Commons.

Sir Keir Starmer apologised to voters for the result in Rochdale, and said Mr Galloway “only won because Labour didn’t stand a candidate“.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews added that the by-election marked “a dark day” for the UK’s Jewish community.

Richard Tice also claimed that campaigners for Reform suffered “daily intimidation and slurs” in the Greater Manchester constituency.

But when asked by Mr Coates about the allegations of intimidation, Mr Galloway said: “You have to just suck it up. I won the election.”

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Clapham: Moped rider opens fire with ‘shotgun’ while being chased by Met Police

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Clapham: Moped rider opens fire with 'shotgun' while being chased by Met Police

A moped rider being chased by police has fired shots, wounding three people in south London.

Two of them suffered shotgun pellet injuries while a third was hurt by the moped, but none are believed to be in a life-threatening condition.

Officers were pursuing the vehicle, being ridden by two people, after it failed to stop in the Clapham area just before 5pm on Friday, the Metropolitan Police said.

Pic: @siancole8
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Pic: @siancole8

A firearm, believed to be a shotgun, was fired from the moped near Clapham Common South Side.

The suspects then fled the scene and officers are trying to trace the moped. No arrests have been made.

The London Ambulance Service said its crews had taken two people to a major trauma centre in the capital, while the third was treated in hospital.

The Met said: “A crime scene is in place and urgent enquiries to trace the moped are ongoing. Firearms officers are searching the area.”

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Several roads have been cordoned off.

Police in the Clapham Common area. Pic: @siancole8
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Police in the Clapham Common area. Pic: @siancole8

A local barber, who gave his name as Kaka, said he was left “shocked” after hearing shooting close to his shop near Clapham Common.

He said: “I was in the shop just before 5pm and I heard a gunshot up the road. We were all shocked because it was so close, the police were everywhere afterwards.”

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PM rails against ‘extremist forces trying to tear us apart’ in Downing Street address

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PM rails against 'extremist forces trying to tear us apart' in Downing Street address

Rishi Sunak has railed against “extremist forces trying to tear us apart” during a Downing Street address to the nation.

The prime minister said there has been a “shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality” and added that “now our democracy itself is a target”.

Politics latest: Galloway reacts to PM saying result ‘beyond alarming’

He also described the Rochdale by-election result on Thursday night as “beyond alarming”, and claimed “our streets have been hijacked by small groups who are hostile to our values” as he urged the need to “beat this poison”.

His surprise speech came after the victory of maverick politician George Galloway in the Greater Manchester seat, following a campaign dominated by the highly-emotive issue of Gaza and dogged by accusations of abuse and intimidation.

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Rochdale MP: ‘I despise the prime minister’

In response, Mr Galloway told Sky News he “despised” the prime minister and did not care what he thought as he had won “a free and fair election”.

Community tensions in the UK have heightened against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas conflict, triggered by the militant attack on 7 October.

In the face of ongoing pro-Palestinian protests, MPs have spoken of their experiences of receiving death threats and their concerns for the safety of their families, prompting the government to announce an extra £31m to protect elected representatives.

It followed chaotic scenes in Westminster over the vote on a ceasefire in Gaza, when Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle broke with precedent in his handling of proceedings because he had concerns about the intimidation suffered by some parliamentarians, sparking a backlash.

But critics argue members of the ruling party have stoked divisions, highlighting former deputy Tory chairman Lee Anderson being stripped of the party whip after he accused London mayor Sadiq Khan of being controlled by Islamists, and former home secretary Suella Braverman referring to protests as “hate marches”.

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Mr Sunak said: “In recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.

“What started as protests on our streets have descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence.

“Jewish children fearful to wear their school uniform lest it reveals their identity. Muslim women abused in the street for the actions of a terrorist group they have no connection with.

“Now our democracy itself is a target. Council meetings and local events have been stormed. MPs do not feel safe in their homes. Long-standing parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns.

“And it’s beyond alarming that last night, the Rochdale by-election returned a candidate that dismisses the horror of what happened on 7 October, who glorifies Hezbollah and is endorsed by Nick Griffin, the racist former leader of the BNP.”

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Protesters descend on MP’s home

He added: “We are a country where we love our neighbours and we are building Britain together.

“But I fear that our great achievement in building the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy is being deliberately undermined.

“There are forces here at home trying to tear us apart.”

He went on: “Islamist extremists and far rights groups are spreading a poison, that poison is extremism.”

Mr Sunak announced a “new robust framework” would be introduced to “ensure we are dealing with the root cause of this problem”.

The prime minister said ministers would redouble their support for the anti-terrorism Prevent programme, demand universities stop extremist activity on campus and act to prevent people from entering the country whose “aim is to undermine its values”.

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What happened in the House of Commons?

In an appeal to those taking part in pro-Palestinian protests, Mr Sunak said: “Don’t let the extremists hijack your marches. You have a chance in the coming weeks to show that you can protest decently, peacefully and with empathy for your fellow citizens.

“Let’s prove these extremists wrong and show that even when we disagree we will never be disunited from our common values of decency and respect.

“I love this country, my family and I owe it so much. The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division and beat this poison.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer backed Mr Sunak’s call.

In a statement, he said: “The prime minister is right to advocate unity and to condemn the unacceptable and intimidatory behaviour that we have seen recently.

“It is an important task of leadership to defend our values and the common bonds that hold us together.

“Citizens have a right to go about their business without intimidation and elected representatives should be able to do their jobs and cast their votes without fear or favour.

“This is something agreed across the parties and which we should all defend.”

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