Mercedes saying it “cannot ignore” Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari exit was “not lip service” but a genuine response to the German’s news, says Toto Wolff.
Last month Vettel ignited the 2021 driver market when he announced he would be leaving Ferrari at the end of this year’s championship.
Wolff responded to the news by telling the world that he “cannot ignore” the fact that Vettel will be a free agent come 2021.
However, in the days after he made it clear that the Ferrari driver is not really an option for Mercedes.
Wolff has explained that’s because one cannot outright say “no” to the prospect of signing a driver who is a four-time World Champion.
“It’s not lip service,” he told the media in a teleconference. “I think we owe it to a four-time World Champion not to come out and say straight away ‘No.’ You need to think about it.
“On the other side we have a fantastic line-up, and I’m happy with both our drivers, and George [Russell]. But you never know.
“One of them may decide that he doesn’t want to go racing any more, 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.’
“First of all I wouldn’t do to him as a driver, to be that blunt, and on the other side I’ve seen black swans appearing when nobody expected.
“Remember Nico Rosberg?
“In that respect we’re just keeping our options open, but of course concentrating our discussions with our current drivers.”
The Mercedes boss added that he was “surprised” to see Vettel, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo all make such early moves given that the 2020 championship has yet to begin.
“We were quite surprised with the early movements because you need to start the season with a driver that you know you’re going to lose,” said Wolff.
“It’s very tricky to develop a car without having that driver be part of it, and every single driver needs to be a team player as well, and that becomes second priority in my opinion for the relevant guy. For us we want to take our time.”
He, however, made it clear once again that his priority is his current line-up of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas with Russell waiting in the wings.
“Our priority lies on the Mercedes drivers, Valtteri and Lewis, and then obviously George and the Williams situation we’re looking at with interest. Beyond that you do not discount any driver.
“This is why I said I don’t want to discount Sebastian as a four-time world champion, because who knows what happens in the next months?
“If I had 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 are just keeping our options open at this stage.”