Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has confirmed that Max Verstappen will be on the Silver Arrows’ radar in the future – but insists the team will first talk with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to establish the picture before looking to other drivers for their 2022 driver line-up.
Seven-time world champion Hamilton is aiming to break Michael Schumacher’s record of seven Formula One Drivers’ Championships in 2021.
The Briton only re-signed with Mercedes in January, penning a one-year deal to stay with the team until the end of the season, which gets underway in Bahrain on March 28.
Hamilton may opt to retire after a record-breaking eighth title while team-mate Bottas’ contract also expires at the same time.
Wolff has confirmed that Mercedes junior drivers George Russell and Esteban Ocon will be considered if either Hamilton or Bottas depart the Brackley-based outfit in 12 months’ time.
But Red Bull’s Verstappen has also been touted as a replacement for Hamilton in particular given he is widely considered the second fastest driver on the grid after the 36-year-old.
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Christian Horner even admitted: “I’m sure that should Lewis decide to stop, then Max would naturally be the driver at the top of the list.”
The 23-year-old has racked up 10 Grands Prix victories since winning on his Red Bull debut at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.
He finished on the podium in 11 of the 12 races he completed in 2020 and is expected to be a multiple time world champion.
And Wolff has confirmed that Mercedes admire Verstappen’s talents but says their priority is to first establish what Hamilton and Bottas want to do.
“The symbiosis that we have in the relationship, it’s always that we have a mutual understanding of what we want to do in the future,” he said after the launch of Mercedes’ W12 2021 car.
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“And that will be also the case in the discussions with Lewis going forward. Max is certainly an outstanding young driver that will be on everybody’s radar in the future.
“But we are not flirting outside before we have a clear understanding with our two drivers.”
Hamilton meanwhile says winning an eighth title will not define his decision, despite suggestions that he could call time on his F1 career if he surpasses Schumacher’s total.
He said: “I don’t want that [winning an eighth title] to be the deciding factor.
“I got into racing because I loved racing, and I think that’s always got to be at the core of what I do. If all you’re going for is titles, I feel like I could potentially lose my way.
“Of course it’s the ultimate dream, but I don’t necessarily think that will be the one deciding factor for if I stay or keep going.
“I’m fully invested in this season and delivering, I still love what I do. I’m in that fortunate position I don’t have to commit to multiple years.
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“So I chose to have a one-year deal so that I could see how the year goes, and where we’re at mid-year, or towards the end of the year.
“Who knows if we’re still in a pandemic, but it doesn’t mean I’m not committed, I’m still very committed to the sport.”
While asked about speculation linking him to Mercedes last week, Verstappen said: “At the end of the day I don’t know, of course, what Lewis is going to do. I just focus on myself.
“I’m very focused on this year and trying to make it a success.
“So early in the season, with only basically a shakedown [in the new Red Bull car], those kind of things I’m not really thinking about at this stage.”