Revealed: Toto Wolff names four drivers on Mercedes shortlist to replace Lewis Hamilton

Thomas Maher
Toto Wolff, Max Verstappen, 2024 Australian Grand Prix.

Toto Wolff has confirmed Max Verstappen is his top pick for the Mercedes vacant seat in 2025.

Mercedes’ Toto Wolff has revealed Max Verstappen is his number one pick to replace Lewis Hamilton for 2025, but has other names on his shortlist.

With a major seat opening up for 2025 as Lewis Hamilton departs Mercedes for Ferrari, Toto Wolff has said he wants to make a relationship with Max Verstappen happen.

Toto Wolff: ‘Extraordinary’ Max Verstappen top of the list

With Max Verstappen’s relationship with Red Bull somewhat rocky at the moment following the recent turmoil that has enveloped the Milton Keynes-based squad, rivals like Mercedes have put feelers out to capitalise on the uncertainty that appears to exist within the Verstappen camp.

In Bahrain, with tensions running high between Jos Verstappen and Red Bull boss Christian Horner, Toto Wolff was seen engaging in conversation with the three-time World Champions’ father and Wolff has since revealed the rivalry of 2021 has been put behind them.

With a chance, however slim, of Mercedes managing to successfully tempt Verstappen away from Red Bull for 2025, Wolff has made it very clear the Dutch driver is at the top of his shopping list.

Speaking to Australia’s Fox Sports in Melbourne, Wolff said: “It’s the kind of relationship that needs to happen at a certain stage. But we don’t know when.”

Asked straight out whether Verstappen is his number one pick for the vacant Mercedes cockpit, Wolff confirmed: “Yes, I mean, you see what his performance levels are. But I wouldn’t want to discount the other ones too.

“I think we’ve got to look at ourselves and [ask] what is it we can do with this car. Then it becomes much easier, whoever drives the second car, it’s become much easier for George [Russell] because he has the potential of being a World Champion and so much more.

“It’s the team’s problem to solve really, rather than looking for a silver bullet with an amazing driver.”

With the W15’s potential promising but proving tricky to unlock, Wolff said he doesn’t believe having Verstappen at the wheel right now would make any difference to the team’s fortunes.

“No, I think he’s extraordinary, but we would give him a car that’s a handful, and difficult to set up and drive,” he said.

“I’d rather make that step and be out there and say, ‘This is a car you could drive because it’s also going fast’.”

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With Wolff having made it clear already that he wants to take his time in mulling over the decision of who to replace Lewis Hamilton with, he confirmed it’s likely to be the summer before he commits to a clear direction forward.

The reason for this is that there are simply plenty of options available.

“As much as we were taken aback by Lewis’ decision so quickly, now I want to really take my time,” he said.

“We have a slot free, the only one in the top teams unless Max decides he goes, then the slot is not going to be free with us anymore.

“There are a few options that are really interesting for us, from the very young super talent to some of the elder ones who are very experienced. That’s not going to happen in the next few weeks or months or so… I want to continue to monitor the market.”

But the decision won’t be influenced by Russell’s own form, determining whether or not Mercedes need to find a driver who can slot in at a high level already, or can afford to take risks with a younger, unproven name such as Formula 2 junior Kimi Antonelli.

“No, [Russell’s] a bank. He’s having that seat, he’s been part of our junior programme for a long time. The reason why is because he’s great, so it’s about the second seat.

“I think it depends also on what Max does. Then we have a young kid that is very promising and I don’t want to put more extra pressure on him, but it looks like he can be one of the great ones.

“But we also don’t want to drown him by jumping so quickly in an F1 car at 17. So there are a few options that we play with him. Obviously, there’s Fernando [Alonso] who is very exciting, and Carlos [Sainz] is very good. So there are a few ones.  I’m gonna make the play like a bride – difficult to get!”

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