Sebastian Vettel, Toto Wolff, Spa-Francorchamps, 2018

Mercedes keeping options open on Vettel in case Hamilton or Bottas leave, says Wolff

2021 F1 season

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Sebastian Vettel could be an option for Mercedes if Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas decide to leave the world champions, team principal Toto Wolff has said.

Vettel is on the driver market for the 2021 F1 season following his decision to leave Ferrari, prompting speculation over where the four-time world champion might find a car capable of competing at the front of the field.

Both Hamilton and Bottas will be out of contract at Mercedes at the end of this year. Wolff has not ruled out Vettel joining the team, but indicated his current drivers are likely to remain their first preference.

“I think we owe it to a four-time world champion not to come out and say straight away ‘no’,” said Wolff in a media conference today. “You need to think about it.

“On the other side we have a fantastic line-up and I’m very happy with both our pilots and George [Russell].

“But you never know. One of them may decide that he doesn’t want to go racing any more and suddenly you have a vacant spot and 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’ve seen black swans appearing where nobody expected. Remember Nico Rosberg.

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“In that respect we are just keeping our options open but of course concentrating our options on our current drivers.”

Wolff admitted the team were “quite surprised at the early movements” in the driver market and Ferrari’s decision to announce Vettel’s impending departure before the postponed 2020 season has begun.

“[It means] you need to start the season with a driver that you know you’re going to lose. So it’s very tricky to develop a car without having the driver be part of it. Every single driver needs to be a team player as well and that becomes second priority, in my opinion, for the relevant guy.

“For us, we want to take our time. Our priority lies on the Mercedes drivers, Valtteri and Lewis and then obviously George and the Williams situation we are looking at with interest. And beyond that you need to not discount any driver.

“This is why I said I don’t want to discount Sebastian as a four-times 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 so in that respect we’re just keeping our options open.”

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Keith Collantine
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18 comments on “Mercedes keeping options open on Vettel in case Hamilton or Bottas leave, says Wolff”

  1. Personal opinion:
    If Bottas leaves (or is dropped) he’s most likely going to be replaced by Russell and Wolff would say “there is a reason why we have a young drivers program and George is ready for a top team etc…”
    If Hamilton leaves suddenly (gets tired of F1 or doesn’t want to be in sport any more) then he could be replaced by Vettel and Wolff would say “Sebastian is a great driver, German, Mercedes think he is the ideal person for the job to lead the team etc…”

    Basicly if you need a No.2 with the potential to become the future No.1 of the team, you go Russell.
    And if you need a No.1 (even if he’s not at the same level as Hamilton or he was a few years before) at short notice, you go Vettel.

    1. True, that’s a good analysis.

    2. Pretty much covers it. Can’t really fault anything that Toto has said.

    3. This. To bad for Vettel, but Mercedes need to win titles and races. The moment they stop winning there is a real chance of Mercedes pulling out of F1.

      I don’t see Hamilton staying when they stop being the #1 team.

      Bottas might be inclined to leave for another team if he gets fed up with #2 role.

      1. It’s a sensible position to take. It also strengthens his negotiating position, basically saying “if you two don’t want the seat, there’s a 4 time world champion ready to take it”.

        Although it’s hard to see either of them wanting to move somewhere else, but if this year has taught us one thing, it’s to expect the unexpected!

  2. Please no. If Hamilton or Bottas leaves, give the seat to Russell. Russell may have the best chance to get a good seat, but I would love to see his potential in fighting with other drivrs, and not in a backmarker.

  3. Mercedes is of course completely right in waiting for this season to start and see the performance levels of the drivers. I feel that it’s all in Vettel’s hands now. If he takes on this challenge, and perform like a true champion would, it would be very hard for Mercedes to ignore him and the fans expectations. If Vettel blows it, and perform similarly to these last two years, fans excitement will probably die out and we might see him running out of options. Come on Seb, hope you have a great season this year!

    1. agreed.

  4. Sensible answer from wolff as always

    1. OmarRoncal - Go Seb!!! (@)
      3rd June 2020, 18:02

      The 8-race championship has 2 races in Austria (Red Bull has won twice in a row there) and 2 in Silverstone (that could go for any of the big 3). Add Spa and Monza (Ferrari wins last year). Spain and Hungary can go for Hamilton. So this year Mercedes doesn’t have it in the bag, unless the DAS helps them demolish everyone. I suspect no more races will be added this season. The Americas are a no-go now, so forget about COTA, Brazil and Mexico. The Middle East might want their Abu Dhabi and Bahrain GPs, but their countries are handling the pandemic quite well being very restricted. I think that’s why FIA announced 8 races: to comply with the minimum number of races to declare a 2020 season.
      Returning to the topic of Mercedes being probably beaten this year, that might provoke some tantrums or some conspiracy claims from one of their drivers. So declaring Vettel is still an option gives Toto a great card to play, even if it’s just a bluff.

      1. @omarr-pepper Having only the eight races from Red Bull Ring I to Monza wouldn’t be enough for the World Championships, though, as these are all in Europe, and the minimum requirement for the number of continents is three. It’d be a European Championship should it all end in Monza, LOL.

      2. Jockey Ewing
        3rd June 2020, 20:03

        Don’t forget that Ferrari was not that strong after their fuel flow became suspicious and they were quite slow at pre season testing, or sandbagged a lot.
        Imo Mercedes could be competitive even if they have to revert to the previous year’s car if the current is not that good. They have so much reliabiliy and headroom. Hamilton sometimes set the race’s best lap right after his outlap before a long stint. Those laps often were 0.5s-1s better than anyones at that current phase of the races. That’s just devastating. I mean before a long stint many would expect a lot more tyre nursing. Or there were a race when the battle for the 1 point for the fastest lap were quite intense, but he humiliated everyone at the last moment on a hard tyre set with something like 30+ laps in it? Bottas were on mediums but even he was beaten with quite much. It’s so much headroom. We have not really seen recurring engine or gearbox problems at the factory Mercedes team for a very long while.
        Ok there will be less races so luck will be a greater factor. Imo it’s totally possible to have some addtional races
        later at the southern hemisphere, when there will be around summer, and things go well around the European races. Or probably some races in Japan, because they are quite reliable, and have many wonderful tracks, if they are ok for Super Formula, it’s not impossible to make some of them Grade 1.
        I’m interesed what was that surprisingly good lap by Danny Ricc at the end of preseason testing. It would be funny, if they sandbagged a lot. And of course Newey used to create quite wonderful Red Bulls, maybe he did it again finally. If I’d like to gamble I would bet some on those two, while I think Ferrari can not afford that amount of sandbagging. And finally I’d like to see the was ist DAS in action :)

  5. All this speculation!! Quite frankly i don’t believe anything that Wolff says. Why would he entertain the risk of any serious competition for Hamilton? There is nothing in the past six years that would support taking Vettel on as a driver. I do seriously believe that Mercedes are firmly fixated on setting a record that most likely will never ever be beaten. He has spoken about a possible ‘black swan’ event but that is a ‘red herring’. To admit that as a possibility is, to an extent, the acknowledgement of a possibility thus rendering that description void. No, Wolff’s description of his own management as being ‘great’ tells us that he’s also fixated as being seen alongside their No1 driver with equal billing. If they pull it off…well done as it’s quite a feat.

  6. I couldnt see Hamilton retiring, before this corona stuff. After his comments and borderline mental break down… I can totally see him rage quitting.

  7. 2020 will be a good season for Vettel because there is NO pressure to be fired by Ferrari anymore. We might even have a situation that he will take a semi sabbatical in 2021 as 3rd driver at Mercedes with a option for 2022. That might be the best thing for him right now. For Russel to stay at Williams longer can only build character.

  8. Hamilton quitting now and ensuring Vettel will take over his seat might be better for his legacy than if it was Verstappen, but then why would he even think about quitting when titles are to be had just by beating your team mate and the team has designated the team mate a helper driver. I find it weird that Wolff even entertains the idea, so likely it’s just a ploy to mess up Vettel in some way by giving him false hopes.

  9. As a Mercedes Junior, you must be very happy reading this..

    I think thr last junior to make it to the Mercedes parent team was Michael Schumacher 20 years after finishin the program. And then they hassle Red Bull for burning through juniors, atleast at Red Bull you get a chance to prove your merit.

    If Mercedes goes for Vettel, especially when Bottas leaves, reaffirms that Mercedes F1 is the most riskaverse team on the grid.

  10. @black for sure.
    I think what Toto said was spot on too, Seb is the “Spare to the heir” There is no need to tell the world (just yet) that they are not interested in Vettel. If Lewis decides to retire, quit, or gets injured at the end of the year, then fare chance Sebs got the job for next year. If Valtteri goes, the young boy’s is the chair. Mercedes will still be all but impossible to defeat, can only hope the changes to the regulations shake it all up a bit. Seb has really hung himself out to dry in some respects.

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