‘Niki Lauda would have put him there’ – Ex-F1 driver weighs in on Toto Wolff’s Max Verstappen pursuit

Jamie Woodhouse
A close-up shot of Max Verstappen with insets of a grinning Toto Wolff and a Mercedes logo.

Toto Wolff has had a lot to say about Max Verstappen recently amid speculation that the World Champion could join Mercedes.

As Toto Wolff continues his quest to bring Max Verstappen to Mercedes, former Formula 1 driver Christian Danner has suggested the late great Niki Lauda would have sealed the deal. 

Lauda was a pivotal figure alongside Wolff, not only in a business sense as Mercedes’ non-executive chairman, but also on a personal level as a dear friend to Wolff. The three-time World Champion, who sadly passed away in 2019, also played a crucial role in securing the shock signing of Lewis Hamilton ahead of the 2013 campaign.

Toto Wolff lacking Niki Lauda factor in Max Verstappen chase?

Hamilton – now a seven-time World Champion having claimed six titles with Mercedes in their era of F1 dominance – is the driver who the team must replace with Hamilton announcing ahead of F1 2024 that he will become a Ferrari driver as of next season.

And after off-track unrest erupted at the current dominant team Red Bull in the early stages of the campaign, Wolff put Verstappen at the top of his wishlist, though the recent cooling of tensions may have made that pursuit a fair bit harder.

But, it is the absence of Lauda which will sting Wolff in this situation, in the opinion of Danner.

Speaking on Red Bull-owned ServusTV, Danner said: “Toto clearly said I want him! What should he do? What he certainly lacks is Niki Lauda. He would have put him there.”

What Wolff is also lacking currently is a fast Mercedes car to prove to Verstappen that he would be right to bet on them over Red Bull, with whom he has won three World titles and looks well set to make it four in succession in F1 2024.

“Toto has an aero team that he has to rely on,” Danner continued. “You can see very clearly that the really important things are coordinated by the headmaster. But the cars are not made by the headmaster.

“The driver has to drive what is there. Christian Horner can manage whatever he wants – the car works. That’s the problem with Toto at the moment, and his drivers also say they are ‘lost’.”

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Indeed, the W15 has not delivered the step forward which Mercedes were hoping for in F1 2024, with Ferrari having emerged as the closest challenger to Red Bull, while Mercedes are left battling Aston Martin and playing catch-up with not only Ferrari, but McLaren too.

Wolff referred to their Japanese Grand Prix as “testing” in a bid to unlock the performance which Mercedes believe is there in the W15, a mission which Wolff says produced progress, even if P7 for George Russell and P9 for Hamilton did not look a great result on paper.

Danner though is not convinced that Wolff has the grounds for such optimism.

“It’s a disaster what we’re witnessing,” Danner rather bluntly said of Mercedes.

“It’s not just Hamilton’s point of view that he’s driving himself ragged and not getting anywhere – it’s also about the team. And with a team boss who no longer really knows what to say. He’s annoyed – but on the other hand, he says we were quite good in Suzuka.

“When I heard Toto after the Suzuka race, I wondered whether he might have been watching a different Grand Prix. You simply have to see the reality. Ferrari has moved forward and Mercedes is the Ferrari of the 2024 season.”

The gap to Ferrari in P2 in the Constructors’ Championship is already rather daunting for Mercedes, who find themselves 86 points adrift of the Scuderia after four rounds.

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