It has been a week since Mercedes quashed all farewell rumours and stressed that team principal Toto Wolff eyes a long-term commitment with the German squad. Any officious Aston Martin and Daimler-related scenarios are currently put on hold, as the Austrian reiterated that he looks to stick with Mercedes in the future. However, Wolff might keep the door open to a potential new role with the team, as he stated in an extensive interview published on Mercedes’ website.
"Something I am really proud of in our team is that we have always transitioned senior members of the team into different roles, we have brought up talent and the same applies to me” he said.
“I have been lucky enough to be at the helm of Mercedes since early 2014, with years that I wouldn't want to miss. I really enjoy the interaction and working with all of my friends at the F1 team and Daimler. This is something I wouldn't want to miss. Nevertheless, I need to question myself. I don't want to become a Team Principal that goes from great to good without realising that he is maybe not adding as much anymore to the team as you did in the beginning”.
Wolff had previously been rumoured to resign from his operational role, moving up to the supervisory board as an investor. What clearly seeps through his words is that such a move cannot be ruled out in the short term, since discussions regarding his future are ongoing.
“I still feel that I can add a lot, but of course I am contemplating about my future, I am in discussions with Ola [Kallenius] about how that goes. It is not a simple employment contract, but it involves a shareholding and we are in the midst of the process in carving out our joint future. Therefore, I don't want to stick to some form of a particular wording, whether it is Team Principal or Managing Director. To be honest with you I haven't taken any decision yet because we haven't even started racing. All these agreements and discussions are happening as we speak."
As for the drivers’ market, Mercedes has adopted a different approach compared to Ferrari. After the Italian team sorted out its line-up until the end of 2022 (potentially 2023), the German team clarified that the lack of on-track action has obviously delayed their contract negotiations. Nevertheless, Wolff emphasized that Mercedes’ priority lies with Hamilton, Bottas and Russell.
“It's very tricky to develop a car without having the driver be part of it and every single driver needs to be a team player as well. That becomes second priority in my opinion. So, for us, we want to take our time. Our priority lies with the Mercedes drivers, Valtteri and Lewis and then obviously George. Beyond that, you need to 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 would have told you in January that we would not have any racing in the first half of the year, nobody would have believed it. In that respect we are just keeping our options open at this stage."
Among the most coveted external options, Sebastian Vettel definitely tops Mercedes’ shortlist. A German driver as part of a German-based team will clearly please and benefit the Mercedes-Benz marque. Regarding a potential interest in signing Vettel, Wolff bluntly remarked that ‘it is no lip service’.
“We owe it to a four-time World Champion not to come out and say no straight away. You need to think about it. On the other side we have a fantastic line-up and we are very happy with both our drivers and George, but you never know. One of them may decide that he doesn't want to go racing anymore and suddenly you have a vacant spot. 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 it to him as a driver - to be that blunt - and on the other side I have seen black swans appearing when nobody expected. Remember Nico Rosberg and in that respect, we are keeping our options open. But of course, concentrating our discussions with our current drivers."