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Wolff: Mercedes F1 relationship with Verstappen "needs to happen at a certain stage"

Toto Wolff reckons a relationship between Mercedes and Max Verstappen “needs to happen at a certain stage” and the Red Bull driver is ‘number one pick’ to replace Lewis Hamilton.

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

When news broke of Hamilton’s decision to leave Mercedes to join Ferrari for 2025, Verstappen seemed on course to see out his Red Bull contract, which expires at the end of 2028.

However, the ongoing controversy surrounding Christian Horner led Verstappen’s father Jos to claim Red Bull would be "torn apart” if the team principal remained in place.

As speculation grew over the position of Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko regarding rumours he leaked information to the press, Verstappen made it clear his future was tied to the Austrian.

It has also come to light that Verstappen belatedly had a ‘Marko clause’ inserted into his contract, meaning he can exit early should the 80-year-old depart.

All this added fuel to the idea that Verstappen could replace Hamilton at Mercedes from 2025 ahead of the major power unit regulation changes - amid rumours that the nascent Red Bull engine programme is behind Mercedes and Ferrari.

Speaking to Fox Sports Australia, Mercedes motorsport boss Wolff says a relationship with “extraordinary” Verstappen “needs to happen at a certain stage”.

Asked when he would decide over the vacancy alongside George Russell, Wolff said: “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.”

Wolff said Mercedes would make a decision towards the summer but noted that the outcome “depends on what Max does”.

George Russell, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

George Russell, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Mercedes had an opportunity to sign Verstappen when he was racing in European Formula 3 in 2014 but could not offer the now triple F1 world champion a topflight seat at a time when there was a plausible path for the Dutch driver with the Red Bull stable.

“I’d seen him in Formula 3; he was very good,” said Wolff. “I have a good relationship with his father, so we sat down in my home in Vienna and said, ‘What can we do?’.

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“I wasn’t able to give him a Formula 1 seat. I said, ‘Let’s do F2 together, fully funded and I guarantee you a seat next year in the car’.

“They said, ‘I have an offer from Red Bull for [Toro Rosso] basically from now on’. That was it. I knew that we wouldn’t be able to compete with that.

“Half into the next season [in 2016], he replaced [Daniil Kvyat] at Red Bull and took the seat.”

Asked if the relationship with Verstappen could come full circle, Wolff replied: “Exactly. So, it’s a kind of a relationship that needs to happen at a certain stage, but we don’t know when.”

He also stated that Verstappen was currently the ‘number one pick’ to replace Hamilton, although he could not “discount” other candidates Fernando Alonso, Carlos Sainz and FIA F2 racer Andrea Kimi Antontelli at this stage.

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