Mercedes not worried about a shortage of top F1 drivers

Mercedes not worried about a shortage of top F1 drivers

Toto Wolff has no concerns about Mercedes potentially facing a shortage of top-level Formula 1 drivers, despite young stars Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc signing long-term deals with rival teams.

Leclerc’s new contract with Ferrari runs through 2024, while fellow 22-year-old Verstappen – who has been on Mercedes’ radar in the past – has extended his Red Bull deal through 2023.

While Mercedes is the heavy favourite to retain its star driver Lewis Hamilton, both he and team-mate Valtteri Bottas are over 30.

Asked about the recent contract extension for Leclerc and Verstappen, Mercedes team boss Wolff pointed to Esteban Ocon and George Russell – two Mercedes-linked drivers under contract through 2021 with Renault and Williams respectively – as natural options down the line.

“Well, I think we have very exciting young drivers that are part of the Mercedes family, like George Russell, who is a Mercedes junior driver, who I foresee a bright future [for],” Wolff said.

“Then we have Esteban who is not too far away, who is with Renault today, but he’s a cousin of the Mercedes family today.

“And looking at Max and Charles, these guys will always strive to be in the fastest cars, and contracts are contracts, probably sometimes the detail is what is important and not the overhead line on how long a contract has been signed [for].

“And therefore, I see our duty in providing and producing the car that is the quickest, and then we will not run out of talent that will be keen and eager to drive these cars.”

Six-time F1 champion Hamilton, linked with a potential move to Ferrari throughout 2019, moved to dismiss reports in the off-season that his talks with Mercedes had not been progressing well.

Wolff reiterated that he saw Hamilton continuing with Mercedes as the logical outcome, but stressed that they hadn’t been negotiating over the winter.

“I think it is the obvious pairing going forward,” Wolff said.

“We would like to have the fastest man in the car, and I know that Lewis wants to be in the fastest car so there’s an obvious mutual outcome.

“But you know, we travel around the world almost 10 months every year.

“We go on our nerves every second weekend. And what we do over winter is we leave each other in peace.

“The last conversation I had with him was in the evening before the Christmas party.

“We had a nice chat, that we would continue our discussion or start or discussion once he comes back from America and we have properly kicked off the season.

“I have great belief in the abilities of the team to attract the best drivers.

“And at the moment Lewis has proven that he is the best current driver with his six titles.

“And on the mid- and long-term, I would hope that we’re able to continue to provide technology to the best driver and attract them.”