Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff says he is not paying “lip service” to Sebastian Vettel by suggesting he doesn’t want to discount the four-time Formula 1 world champion as an option for the team in 2021.
When news broke of Vettel’s departure from Ferrari at the end of this season, Wolff admitted the chance to sign a German F1 superstar would appeal to Mercedes, especially from a “marketing strategy” standpoint.
Speaking to media on Wednesday, Wolff said Vettel has to be a genuine consideration, even if the team’s priority is to focus on current drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, plus protege George Russell who is at Williams.
“I don’t want to discount Sebastian as a four-time world champion, because who knows what happens in the next months?” Wolff said.
“If I would have told you in January that we would not have any racing in the first half of the year nobody would have believed it, so in that respect, we’re just keeping our options open at this stage.”
When pushed on if he was just being polite towards Vettel, Wolff added: “It’s not lip service, I think we owe it to a four-time world champion not to come out and say straight away ‘no’.
“On the other side, we have a fantastic line-up and I’m very happy with both our drivers and George, but you never know.
“One of them may decide he doesn’t want to go racing anymore and suddenly you have a vacant spot, and this is why I don’t want to come out in June and say, ‘no chance, Sebastian is not racing for us’.
“I wouldn’t do it to him as a driver, to be that blunt, and on the other side I’ve seen black swans appearing where nobody expected. Remember Nico Rosberg [who decided to make a shock retirement one week after winning the 2016 championship]?
“In that respect we’re just keeping our options open, but of course concentrating on our discussions with our current drivers.”
Wolff added he was surprised by the amount of activity there has been in the driver market before a wheel has turned in anger in 2020, and he said Mercedes is following the behind-the-scenes developments at Williams “with interest” given Russell’s role with the team.
“We were quite surprised with the early movements because you need to finish, or you need to start the season with a driver that you know you’re going to lose,” he said.
“It’s very tricky to develop a car without having the driver be part of it and every single driver needs to be a team player as well.
“We want to take our time.”
‘TRUST’ IN HAMILTON TALKS
Hamilton is expected to sign a new deal to remain with Mercedes, but Wolff says no serious discussions about that have taken place yet.
“We were in very regular contact,” he said. “But we didn’t work on any agreement between us.
“There is a lot of trust. We have been together for a long time and never in these years have we had to take the contract out and read what was written in them because it comes so naturally.
“Once racing resumes we’re going to spend some time together, take the contract out of the cupboard, look at the timings and the numbers and then hopefully have something pretty soon.”