Wolff has no regrets about not signing Verstappen to Mercedes

Toto Wolff discusses whether Max Verstappen could have joined Mercedes in the past

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Toto Wolff says he is happy with the drivers Mercedes have had since he joined the Silver Arrows in 2013, after being asked if he regrets missing out on Max Verstappen.

Mercedes followed the Red Bull driver as he was developing in karting and Formula 3, but the chance to sign the Dutchman was missed.

The Brackley-based team were not able to offer Verstappen a seat on the grid quicker than Red Bull could, so Verstappen‘s father and ex-Formula 1 driver Jos Verstappen elected for his son to join Toro Rosso for 2015.

The F1 grid was then stunned as Nico Rosberg announced a sudden retirement after winning the 2016 championship by five points from Hamilton, to emulating his father, Keke Rosberg.

Valtteri Bottas was subsequently promoted from Williams and went on to claim 10 wins with Mercedes and helped the team five constructors championships from 2017-2021.

“We had two drivers that I was extremely happy with in Nico and Lewis,” Wolff said to the media. “When Nico left, Valtteri was the option and Max wasn’t even available.”

Wolff admitted he maintained “friendly contact” with Verstappen, but the pair never discussed working together.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, and Max Verstappen of Red Bull after 2023 Australian Grand Prix qualifying | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Fireworks with Hamilton

Wolff says he was also unsure whether Verstappen and Hamilton would function as teammates, since Mercedes had already witnessed a tense period between Rosberg and Hamilton.

The relationship between Rosberg and Hamilton degraded to the point that the childhood friends stopped talking to each other.

“Would Max and Lewis have functioned? Maybe not,” pondered Wolff. “And Lewis is a Mercedes guy since forever, so that hard question I never needed to ask myself for the organisation. Everything happens for a reason.

“But I had two drivers in the seats and no deal with a junior team, so it was clear that the option with Toro Rosso is what they needed to do.”

More promise in Ocon

Wolff was, at the time in 2014, more convinced by Esteban Ocon, as he beat Verstappen in Formula 3, albeit in a more competitive package than the Van Amersfoort car.

Ocon had won the championship by 58 points, with Verstappen a further nine behind the runner-up, Tom Blomqvist.

Verstappen claimed 10 victories and outscored his nearest teammate by 320 points, which was enough to impress Christian Horner and Helmut Marko, who welcomed him into the Red Bull set up.

Hungarian Grand Prix winner 2023 Esteban Ocon of Alpine celebrates on the podium alongside third placed Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes | Pool via REUTERS/Florion Goga

“Back in the day, I think there wasn’t huge hype around Max because Max and Van Amersfoort weren’t winning the championship that year, as Esteban won in a more competitive car,” explained Wolff.

“So, the insiders knew that Max was probably in an inferior package, and in his first year, and the insiders knew there was a good one coming; but it wasn’t clear that he was that good at that stage.”

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