Toto Wolff revealed he had “initial” discussions with Max Verstappen about joining Mercedes as a junior driver, but the lack of F1 progression available at the time saw him choose Red Bull instead.
Mercedes were locked into their pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as they dominated the sport in the early years of the turbo hybrid era, but Verstappen would eventually become the sport’s youngest ever driver when he opted for Red Bull and joined Toro Rosso for the 2015 season.
He had only had one season of car racing under his belt at that time after graduating from karting, but Verstappen was catapulted into the big time after joining the Red Bull ranks – skipping the well-trodden GP3 and GP2 path (now FIA F3 and F2) for junior drivers in the process.
Toto Wolff: ‘It was clear we couldn’t give Max Verstappen a seat’
Wolff revealed that Mercedes offered Verstappen support in the junior ranks and a Formula 2 seat as a part of their discussions, but with the Dutchman being unproven and Mercedes dominating at the front of F1 with two warring team-mates at the top of their game, with no seat up for renewal, there was no short-term option for him to reach the top tier with Mercedes.
“Max was very good in karting, was good in F3, and it was clear that there’s a big one that’s growing,” Wolff told F1’s Beyond the Grid podcast when asked if he could have signed the now-double World Champion in the past.
“And we talked to them in the initial phases, and it was a nice discussion with Jos and with Max involved as well.
“But it was clear that we couldn’t give him a seat because we had Nico and we had Lewis and we offered the support in F2, but since Red Bull was able to offer them the AlphaTauri seat, or Toro Rosso back in the day, it got Max into the seat.”
Rosberg shook the foundations of the Mercedes team at the end of 2016 when he abruptly decided to retire from the sport after winning the World Championship, leaving Wolff with the task of finding a new driver.
He duly hired Valtteri Bottas from Williams, who would partner Hamilton for the next five seasons at the Silver Arrows, but the Mercedes team boss was asked if Verstappen may have made a different decision if he knew a Mercedes seat would have been on the horizon a year later.
All ifs and buts, according to the team boss.
“Well, maybe,” Wolff replied. “But you know, if and when – if I would know where the stock market is next year, I would decide to invest in it or not.