Mercedes is keeping the door open to a potential move for Sebastian Vettel based on past experiences of surprise driver moves, including the shock retirement of Nico Rosberg in 2016.
Team principal Toto Wolff has previously said the defending champions must factor Vettel into its 2021 driver considerations, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas both out of contract at the end of the season, and reiterated that the team needs to be prepared for any eventualities.
“First of all, it is not lip service because we owe it to a four-time world champion not to come out and say straight away ‘no’,” said Wolff. “You need to think about it.
“On the other side, we have a fantastic line-up and I am happy with both our drivers and George (Russell, also a contracted Mercedes driver), but you never know – one may decide he doesn’t want to go racing anymore and suddenly you have a vacant spot. That’s why I don’t want to come out in June and say, “No chance, Sebastian” and that he is not racing for us.
“First of all, I wouldn’t do it to him as a driver, to be that blunt. And on the other side, I have seen black swans appearing when nobody expected. Remember Nico Rosberg. So in that perspective we are just keeping our options open but of course concentrating our discussions on our current drivers.”
Despite his comments, Wolff is not expecting to have to find a replacement for Hamilton, saying any contract negotiations in the past have been efficiently handled in person and believing this year will be no different.
“We didn’t see each other over lockdown – we were in different parts of the world,” he said. “We were in very regular contact, but we didn’t work on any agreement. Between us there is a lot of trust. We have been together for a long time, and never in these years together [have] we had to take the contract out and actually read what was written in there, as it comes so naturally.
“Once racing resumes we’re going to spend some time together, dig the contract out of the cupboard, look at the timings and the numbers and the rights, and hopefully have something pretty soon.”
Wolff insists he will also take his time regarding Bottas or any potential replacement for the Finn, even though other teams have moved to secure 2021 drivers already.
“We were quite surprised on the early movements, as you need to start the season with a driver you know you’re going to lose, so it’s very tricky to develop a car without having the driver be part of it,” he said. “Every single driver needs to be a team player as well, and that becomes second priority in my opinion, then for the relevant guy.”