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Formula 1

Mercedes escalates its public pursuit of Verstappen for 2025

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

Mercedes Formula 1 team boss Toto Wolff has stepped up his public courting of Max Verstappen by declaring the world champion is the number one preference to partner George Russell next season - if Verstappen becomes available.

Verstappen is under contract at Red Bull until the end of 2028 but his future has been an unexpected talking point at the start of this season due to his current team’s tumultuous off-track storylines.

A fall-out between Verstappen’s father Jos and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner in Bahrain preceded an implication from Max Verstappen in Saudi Arabia that if Helmut Marko is ousted from the team, it will impact his future too.

It was also in Jeddah that Horner gave the first hint at calling Verstappen’s bluff should he threaten to leave, declaring that no individual is bigger than the team and that nobody, even star driver Verstappen, would be forced to stay if they wanted out.

While this has played out, Wolff - a long-time Verstappen admirer - has wasted no opportunity to open his team’s doors to the driver it fought so fiercely in 2021.

Mercedes is losing Lewis Hamilton to Ferrari at the end of 2024 so has a seat free alongside Russell.

Teenage prodigy Andrea Kimi Antonelli, the 17-year-old who is early in his rookie Formula 2 season, is a serious left-field contender for the drive.

At the other end of the scale, two-time world champion Fernando Alonso is another candidate. Wolff has also named Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz, whom Hamilton will replace, as an option.

Wolff has made several public comments now about being interested in Verstappen should he decide to leave Red Bull after all. But none have been so bold as his remarks in a Fox Sports Australia interview at last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.

“We have a slot free, the only one in the top teams - unless Max decides he goes, and the slot is not going to be free with us anymore,” Wolff said.

Though that carries a big assumption that Verstappen would choose Mercedes if he did leave Red Bull, it is entirely in keeping with how Wolff has consistently framed Mercedes’ interest in Verstappen should he come on the market: that the team is a big admirer of his ability, would seriously consider him, and would expect him to be ‘gettable’.

Asked if he is Mercedes’ number one pick, Wolff replied: “Yes. You see what his performance levels are.

“But I wouldn't want to discount the other ones, too.

“We've got to look at ourselves and say, 'What is it that we can do with this car?'.

“And then it becomes much easier for whoever drives the second car, much easier for George, because he has the potential of being a world champion.

“And it's much more the team's problem to solve than really looking for a silver bullet with an amazing driver.”


That reflects the fact that Mercedes can covet Verstappen all it wants but it still needs to make a better case than just ‘this team is more together than your current team’.

Beyond the internal fighting between Red Bull’s leadership factions, there is a medium-term competitive argument for Verstappen to leave.

Red Bull is losing current engine partner Honda at the end of 2025 and is building its own engine for 2026, the first time Red Bull has taken on such a project. That is an enormous undertaking especially as the engine formula is changing to be closer to a 50/50 split between power from the internal combustion engine and the MGU-K.

Mercedes rose to prominence at the start of the hybrid era in 2014 and while it has been underachieving in the car technical era that began in 2022, a major rules reset in 2026 could be the opportunity it needs to topple Red Bull again.

Any short-term move to Mercedes would therefore have to be with the next few years in mind, as Wolff has admitted a significant step is needed to convince Verstappen purely on performance terms.

“He's extraordinary, but we would give him a car that's a handful, difficult to set up and drive,” said Wolff.

“And I'd rather make that step and be out there and say, 'This is a car you could drive, because it's also going fast'.”

Wolff has indicated a decision will be made around the summer. 

Apart from Verstappen, Anontelli is on Mercedes’ books already, Alonso is yet to decide what to do, and Sainz is still a free agent - so Mercedes does appear to have the luxury of waiting to see what Verstappen does and if that opportunity really materialises.

Signing Verstappen would come a decade or so after the failed attempt to sign him when he was a teenage car-racing rookie in 2014, the year Red Bull beat Mercedes to his signature by virtue of having a Toro Rosso F1 seat to offer him for 2015, when Verstappen was just 17.

Mercedes' offer at the time involved funding Verstappen in what was then called GP2 and didn’t provide the instant F1 graduation Red Bull was willing to.  

“It's a kind of relationship that needs to happen at a certain stage,” Wolff said.

“But we don't know when.”

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