Mercedes won’t court Max Verstappen before it knows the fate of its current driver line-up of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, insists team principal Toto Wolff.
Bottas has only ever had one-year deals since joining Mercedes in 2017, but Hamilton joined the Finn in penning a 12-month contract earlier this year and admitted it was because he doesn’t know when he’s going to want to stop racing in Formula 1. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes Verstappen will top the Mercedes wishlist if Hamilton does quit, and while Wolff acknowledges the Dutchman’s talent, he says his primary focus is on the futures of his current pair.
“The relationship, the symbiosis we have, is always that we have mutual understanding of what we want to do in the future, and that will be also the case in the discussions with Lewis going forward,” Wolff said. “Max is certainly an outstanding young driver that will be on everybody’s radar in the future, but as I said before, we are not flirting outside before we have a clear understanding with our two drivers.”
Despite Verstappen signing a new deal just over a year ago that keeps him at Red Bull until the end of 2023, Horner also recently confirmed that his driver has a performance-related release clause in his contract.
While retaining Hamilton is the Mercedes priority, Wolff admits that the time to make a significant driver change is ahead of the 2022 season, when dramatic new regulations have the potential to shake-up the competitive order and will require drivers to adapt to different cars.
“The sheer fact that we have had so much success together in the past and the relationship that we have, the trustful relationship, will mean that any conversation that we have on 2022 and the future will first be with him.
“As a matter of fact, I think if Lewis continues to race, we will want to do this together and we will discuss that shortly. And with Valtteri we know exactly what we have, and we appreciate this. At the same time the landscape changes, with new cars, with new regulations, and we’ve got to take the right decision for the team going forward, but that also means we will have the discussions with our two drivers first – and then we will see how that goes.”