Wolff on Verstappen to Mercedes: A ‘relationship that needs to happen’

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Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has insisted that a future partnership with Max Verstappen is something that “needs to happen”.

When speaking after qualifying in Melbourne, the Mercedes team principal covered a range of topics, including his team’s struggles during the ground-effect era, as well as potential replacements for Lewis Hamilton.

Since the new rules were introduced in 2022, Mercedes’ cars have been characterised by inconsistent and generally sub-par performance. This year’s W15 is also suffering, with Wolff acknowledging that the team has “no idea” why their form differs so drastically session to session.

With their inability to provide Lewis Hamilton a race-winning car being central to the seven-time drivers’ champ’s choice to leave for Ferrari, Wolff revealed that it wasn’t the decision that shocked him, but rather the timing of it.

When asked in an interview with Fox Sports Australia how much time he had between finding out and the news breaking, the 52-year-old confirmed that it was not long.

“Not a lot,” he began. “I think it was difficult for him to really tell me, because he left for the Christmas holiday and ‘Mercedes forever’. And normally that’s a time where we don’t speak a lot, because he’s gone, because otherwise we are speaking every day.

“Then he came back and said, ‘can we have a coffee?’ Then he came for the coffee – that’s a normal thing we do when the season kicks off, and then he said, ‘I’m moving to Ferrari’.”

Despite that, he maintains he was not disappointed by Hamilton’s choice.

“I see the positives because our years were so great, and we really have a strong bond.”

When pressed on what it will be like to see his soon-to-be former driver with a rival, Wolff’s answer underscored the strength of their relationship.

“I can’t imagine him in the red, I don’t think it suits him,” he joked. “I told him, you gotta really picture our rear wing, because that’s the perspective you’re gonna have.”

Who might partner George Russell?

Although news of the Hamilton move broke before the start of the season, the Mercedes team principal insists he wants to take his time in choosing Hamilton’s replacement.

“That’s not going to happen in the next few weeks or in months, so I want to continue to monitor the market.” However, he did concede it will likely be before the summer.

When musing over who the candidates might be, Wolff mentioned Fernando Alonso, Australian Grand Prix winner Carlos Sainz and highly-touted Mercedes junior, Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

However, it was Red Bull driver Max Verstappen who drew the most attention in the conversation. After speaking to his relationship with Max’s father, Jos, and how close Mercedes came to signing the three-time champion before he joined Toro Rosso, Wolff alluded to the poetry of that near-partnership coming full circle.

“It’s a kind of relationship that needs to happen at a certain stage, but we don’t know when,” added Wolff.

When asked if Verstappen would be his number one pick for the vacant Mercedes seat, Wolff admitted he was.

“Yes,” asserted the 52-year-old. “You see what his performance levels are, but I wouldn’t want to discount the other ones too. I think we’ve got to look at ourselves and say, ‘what is it we can do with this car?’”

By pivoting back to his immediate area of concern, the Austrian reiterated the main focus has to be on solving the car and helping George Russell towards a world championship, rather than trying to find a “silver bullet” with an “amazing” driver.

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