Toto Wolff has told of Lewis Hamilton's hurt at the contentious nature of his Formula 1® title failure but hopes the seven-time world champion will not quit the sport.
Hamilton looked to have done enough to beat Max Verstappen to the championship on Sunday, leading with one lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – and the season – remaining.
Despite Verstappen's pole, Hamilton had forged ahead in just the second F1® title race to see the top two level on points heading into the final grand prix of the year.
But race director Michael Masi made a controversial call to let the cars between Hamilton and Verstappen – running first and second but separated by a series of lapped rivals – pass a late safety car and allow one lap of racing.
Verstappen, on fresher tyres, passed Hamilton to secure his first title, becoming the first driver ever to win the championship by passing his direct rival on the final lap of the season.
Mercedes launched a double protest of the result, which was dismissed, and then appealed, before finally accepting Verstappen's triumph on Thursday.
Team principal Wolff confirmed to reporters Hamilton had played a part in those decisions, having seen a contentious finale put a huge dampener on another historic season in which he became the first man to both 100 F1® poles and a century of race wins.
Could that painful final chapter in 2021 put Hamilton off returning in 2022 for another tilt at the outright F1® championship record? For now, he remains tied with Michael Schumacher on seven titles.
I would very much hope that Lewis continues racing because he's the greatest driver of all times
"When you look at it from the point of view of the last four races, he dominated them. On Sunday, there wasn't even a doubt who won the race. And that was worthy of winning the world championship," Wolff said.
He added: "It is going to take a long time for us to digest what has happened on Sunday. I don't think we will ever get over it. That's not possible – and certainly not as a driver."
Despite Mercedes' protests, Wolff said they had not wanted "to win a world championship in the courtroom".
Having initially kept his counsel as the team went through the appeal process, Wolff on Thursday accused Masi of a "freestyle reading of the rules" that "left Lewis like a sitting duck".
The Silver Arrows at least had the consolation of an eighth constructors' championship – all of which have come in the past eight seasons. For 2022, George Russell will replace Valtteri Bottas.
Lewis, you are the greatest racer in the history of Formula 1 and you drove your heart out for every lap of this incredible season.— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 16, 2021
You're a flawless sportsman on and off the track and you delivered a faultless performance. pic.twitter.com/fCCmO0qwkj