How Mercedes missed out on the chance to sign Max Verstappen

Sam Cooper
Max Verstappen laughs next to George Russell and Lewis Hamilton. Melbourne, April 2023.

Max Verstappen laughs next to George Russell and Lewis Hamilton. Melbourne, April 2023.

Toto Wolff has detailed how Mercedes missed out on the chance to sign a young Max Verstappen back in 2014.

In 2014, Mercedes had just begun their period of dominance which would see them acquire eight Constructors’ Championships in as many years.

They had already been bold in their driver recruitment, luring Lewis Hamilton away from McLaren to replace the retiring Michael Schumacher but they could have gone one step further by nailing down the talents of a certain young Dutchman.

Max Verstappen was just 17 years old at the end of the 2014 F1 season but had already made a name for himself – and one that focused on his own exploits rather than those of his father Jos.

He had picked up 10 wins in his one and only Formula 3 season and with a stellar karting career on his CV, Formula 1 teams were already seriously considering this young prospect.

One of those was the team he would eventually join, Red Bull, but they were prompted into action when Niki Lauda was reportedly interested in acquiring Verstappen’s services.

Red Bull senior advisor Helmut Marko revealed last October that Lauda, who was working in a non-executive chairman role at Mercedes at the time and had been part of the negotiations to bring Hamilton to the team, was eyeing another young talent.

“We talked to the Verstappens but then Gerhard Berger drew Lauda’s attention at Mercedes. Niki immediately jumped on the cart,” Marko told Auto Motor und Sport.

“We then made him an offer directly at the race weekend in Spielberg and told him that he had to make a decision quickly.”

In the end, Verstappen signed for Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso, spending just one full season there before moving up to Red Bull in 2016.

For Wolff then, what seems like a missed opportunity was actually the only option available given that Mercedes, unlike Red Bull, did not have a junior team seat to offer Verstappen.

“Yes,” Wolff admitted to the Italian edition of when asked if he lost a challenge to Marko. “But I didn’t have a Formula 1 steering wheel to offer him. recommends

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“We had Lewis and Nico [Rosberg] and both had long-term contracts, Max was clearly an interesting youngster but at that moment we could have offered him a place in GP2 and then maybe a contract.

“But Helmut was able to offer him a seat in Formula 1 and I finally advised him to go that route too. And that meant seeing him leave the Mercedes orbit.”

Wolff said it was “a great advantage” to have a second team but it is one that is also “a very expensive operation.”

“It is undoubtedly an advantage to be able to have a team like they [Red Bull] have in which to evaluate the drivers on the field,” the Mercedes CEO and team principal said. “It was a great advantage in their case to have the possibility to evaluate Honda before moving to the main team, but it is a very expensive operation.

“You have to be able to afford to spend 100 million a season to be able to judge the drivers, and I repeat, it’s the best way to do it, but it’s also very expensive.”