Toto Wolff is just explaining how futile it is to try to put his star driver Lewis Hamilton "in a box" and control what he does or says, when - with the sort of exquisite timing he is demonstrating more on the track - a video appears on Hamilton's Instagram feed of a Chihuahua vigorously humping what appears to be a Donald Trump doll.

Within an hour or so, the video has disappeared, removed while Hamilton took part in Friday's curtailed second practice session at Sepang ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Presumably Formula One's championship leader got cold feet about getting mixed up in politics for a second day running, having criticised Trump's presidency on Thursday. Or else his handlers baulked at the tastefulness of the post (Hamilton denied that he had taken it down).

Either way, Mercedes denied getting involved.


Wolff says they would not dream of it. Censoring Hamilton, he says, is counter-productive.

"The more you try to limit him - put him in a box - the more detrimental it will be for his performance," Wolff says. "The old mentality of 'A racing driver has to be like this or like that' is invalid for Lewis."

Hamilton is a man living in the moment. And Mercedes F1 executive director Wolff says his driving is better for it.

Since returning from F1's summer break, Hamilton has won three straight races, turning a 14-point deficit to Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel into a 28-point advantage.

And while the 32-year-old may have got lucky with his win in Singapore last time out, with the two pace-setting Ferraris taking each other out on the first lap, Wolff says he deserved a bit of luck.

"We were unlucky a lot [this season]," he says. "Lewis' headrest coming undone in Baku cost us a sure race win."

Credit for Hamilton's form must go in large part to the two Austrians at the helm of Mercedes: Niki Lauda and Wolff. Ignoring calls to curb Hamilton's more extravagant tendencies, or otherwise censor him in any way, they have instead trusted him to learn from his own mistakes and grow. And they have reaped the rewards of that laissez-faire attitude.

When Hamilton was criticised for failing to attend a Formula One fan event in London before the British Grand Prix, going on holiday to Greece with friends instead, Mercedes were "respectful" of his decision.

Hamilton responded by winning the race, while Vettel could finish only seventh.

"Lewis is a very talented racing driver - probably the best [in the sport] at this moment in time," Wolff explains of their hands-off policy.

It's in stark contrast to Hamilton's time at McLaren, where the Briton says he felt suffocated by a team who had raised him since he was barely out of short trousers.

"You have to accept that all of us pretty much know what's good and bad for us, and then leave him to adjust his life accordingly so that he performs best and we perform best."

Asked specifically about Hamilton's criticism of Trump, Wolff shrugs.

"Lewis is a great personality in Formula One. The kind of deal we have is that he drives very fast. And we provide the framework that enables him to do so. And it's a win-win situation."

Wolff appears relaxed. He believes he has the fastest driver in the fastest car, with the perfect team-mate.

"The dynamic between Valtteri Bottas and Lewis is completely different to how it was with Nico [Rosberg]. You can see that they respect each other much more and there is a certain kind of feeling of satisfaction to the other one doing well," he says.

As long as the team continues to give Hamilton the space he needs to breathe - whether or not F1 fans like what he does with his freedom - Wolff believes he will be rewarded for that faith. The Austrian has put all contract talks with Hamilton on hold until the end of the season, despite Hamilton's deal entering its final year shortly.

"We want him to stay a while. But we want to win the championship first and then open discussions because they can take a while." Telegraph Group Ltd