ABU DHABI (REUTERS) - Mercedes Formula One team boss Toto Wolff said he would have no problem with Lewis Hamilton talking to Ferrari about a move in 2021 after reports in Italy claimed meetings had already happened.
The 34-year-old Briton, now a six-time world champion, will be a free agent when his Mercedes deal runs out at the end of next year.
Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper reported Hamilton had twice met with Ferrari chairman John Elkann.
Asked at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix how he would feel about Hamilton talking to Ferrari, Wolff replied: "I'm totally OK with that... I think this is a free world and I recognise that everybody needs to explore career options, and make the best decision for themselves, drivers and everybody else included."
Wolff said Mercedes needed to provide the drivers with the quickest car and if that happened, everything pointed to Hamilton staying even if nothing was certain.
"I have started to embrace the fact that everybody has objectives and needs to have the best possible opportunity for his career," said Wolff, who has been tipped as a replacement for Formula One head Chase Carey.
"In that respect, I am absolutely open for everybody to explore options."
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, a four-time world champion, will also be out of contract at the end of 2020. He has been beaten by 22-year-old team mate Charles Leclerc this year, prompting speculation he could leave or retire.
Mercedes' own future in Formula One is not guaranteed beyond 2020, with the German company competing in the electric Formula E series and parent Daimler investing heavily in electric vehicles.
Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto praised Hamilton on Friday, saying he was happy the Briton would be on the market.
"You can also bet that if his chairman meets with him, he's not going to talk badly about that either," commented Wolff.
Hamilton, who qualified on pole position at Yas Marina, said it was the first compliment he could recall from Ferrari in 13 years.
"It has been a long, long time and a team that I've always appreciated over the years, so to earn their respect from someone from there who's obviously very high up is obviously not a bad thing," Hamilton said.
"I think they've got two great drivers so who knows what the driver market's going to be doing over the next year."