Toto Wolff admits Mercedes “could have been interested” in looking at Lando Norris or Charles Leclerc but their January contract extensions put an end to that.
As the Formula 1 teams returned to work in the build-up to the new championship, that included a few contract negotiations between drivers and their existing teams. And a shock one from a rival outfit.
Ferrari and Charles Leclerc kicked off the proceedings as the Scuderia announced their Monégasque star has re-signed for “beyond 2024”, although no further details were given.
Mercedes would have looked at drivers ‘signed a few weeks ago’
A day later McLaren announced an “extended multi-year contract with Lando Norris”, one that had secured “his services for the team long-term”.
It, however, was the announcement that came a week later that was the humdinger, Mercedes confirming rumours of Lewis Hamilton’s exit before Ferrari announced him as Leclerc’s 2025 team-mate.
Hamilton’s decision to exercise his option to leave Mercedes at the end of this season came as a surprise to his team boss Toto Wolff who is now searching for a replacement.
That list of candidates, Wolff says, is short two drivers after January’s contract confirmations.
“I guess that a few contracts have been signed a few weeks ago that we would have looked at,” the team principal told the media, including PlanetF1.com.
“That could have been interesting but timing here beat us a bit.”
With a slew of drivers, including the ousted Carlos Sainz and double World Champion Fernando Alonso, rumoured to be on Mercedes’ list, Wolff says he won’t be rushed into making a decision.
After all, Mercedes have a potential team leader in Russell already on the books for 2025.
“With all the Lewis discussion, something that has not been talked about enough is George,” he added.
“George has the potential to be the next lead driver in the team. He is of the generation of Lando and Leclerc and some of the others.
“I couldn’t wish for a new team leader when Lewis leaves, no doubt about that.
“We have such a solid foundation, such a quick, talented, and intelligent guy in the car that we just need to take the right choice for the second driver, the second seat.
“That’s not something I want to be rushed in.”