Why Mercedes can’t afford to wait for Verstappen


“We have a slot free, the only one in the top teams – unless Max decides he goes. Then the slot is not going to be free with us anymore. That’s not going to happen in the next few weeks or months or so… I want to continue to monitor the market.”

Voicing his interest in Max Verstappen, Toto Wolff made it clear that he is keen to see the Dutchman join Mercedes in the near future.

A vacancy has arisen at the Brackley-based squad amid Lewis Hamilton’s shock decision earlier this year to depart Mercedes and join Ferrari in 2025.

It has left Wolff with a problem. Who is suitable to fill the seat of a seven-time world champion from 2025 and help the struggling Mercedes return to success?

There are plenty of candidates, although Wolff is undoubtedly aiming his sights at Verstappen. The Dutchman is tied up with Red Bull until 2028, but is still being linked to Mercedes amid rumblings of intra-team turmoil within the energy drink team.

Verstappen linked his future to Helmut Marko when it became apparent that the Red Bull advisor might be suspended, sparking rumours of a potential exit for Verstappen.

Wolff also cleverly played on this by speaking highly of Verstappen and indicating that he would welcome the three-time world champion with open arms.


However, Wolff cannot wait endlessly for a decision from Verstappen, if one even comes at all. A team with the status of Mercedes would prefer to tie up a ‘top’ driver for 2025, and a lot is still to happen in the driver market.

Competitors such as Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso, who have also been linked to Mercedes, are seeking clarity on their futures quickly and may look to alternative options if the Silver Arrows wait any longer.

Should that be the case, Wolff will have to look beyond the most obvious options if those two sought-after top drivers depart for other teams.

The possibility exists that Alonso could opt to depart F1 altogether and if Verstappen then decides to stay at Red Bull – which is not an unrealistic scenario – he’ll be stuck with the same problem. So by waiting, Wolff is running a risk.

One very important factor – what is the plan with top talent Kimi Antonelli?

The 17-year-old Italian is part of Mercedes’ development program and currently drives at Prema in Formula 2 and is considered a suitor for the drive.

“He’s definitely a very strong contender,” Wolff recently stated. “I want to see how his F2 season develops, but we will wait and see what happens with some of the other drivers in F1. I don’t doubt his raw speed, talent and ability.”

And that is exactly the crux of the matter as Wolff has to start making a long-term choice.

Of course, it’s a no-brainer for him if Verstappen leaves Red Bull, but Wolff also has George Russell and Antonelli in the ranks. If he commits to Verstappen long-term, he will likely be forced to choose between Russell and Antonelli as early as the end of 2025.

It could be an unpleasant decision, especially if Antonelli is performing strongly and thus advertising himself as containing bucketloads of F1 potential.

It may also be true that Wolff has a different plan with Antonelli and that 2025 comes too soon for the Italian. Mercedes could then stable him at Williams, for example, so that he can gain experience and be prepared for the big-time move in a similar path to Russell.

Ifs and buts

Are there a lot of ifs and buts? Of course – but this makes it clear that Wolff is playing poker, taking risks and may have to decide sooner than he indicates. He could end up in a nasty situation at Mercedes if he placed all of his eggs in Verstappen’s basket.

It is really not certain that Antonelli, who will turn 18 later this year, will be ready for a Mercedes seat by 2025. If it plays out how Wolff desires, the top drivers already have proven their worth and he can choose an interim solution.

But it doesn’t change the logic Wolff is using in the whole Verstappen story – Mercedes is looking to improve, and the Austrian knows full well that Verstappen can help the team move forward, even towards the major regulation changes of 2026.

Perhaps Mercedes wants to convince Verstappen by also sharing its 2026 plans? The team handled the new V6 engines extremely well in 2014, resulting in a period of domination that lasted years.

According to Wolff, the summer period will be important for Mercedes – but don’t be surprised if the team is already in action in the coming weeks. Whether Verstappen moves or not, there must be a top driver or a top talent driving at Mercedes.

Wolff has no other choice.

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