It “needs to happen at a certain stage” — Toto Wolff wants “extraordinary” Max Verstappen at Mercedes F1

Max Verstappen talking with engineer Gianpiero Lambiase
Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool
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Co-authors: Chiara Martin and Ewout Albrecht

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is searching for a replacement for Lewis Hamilton, and Max Verstappen is quickly emerging as a candidate to replace the seven-time world champion.

Wolff heaped praise on the Dutchman, saying he has been in a class of his own over the past two seasons.

“If you look at Max’s last two years, no one comes close to him. As a driver, you can’t do it without a good car, engine, and team around you. Max is in that position now.”

The Formula 1 driver market suffered a seismic shock when Hamilton announced he would leave Mercedes for Ferrari in 2025.

Three-time world champion Verstappen has dominated F1 over the past couple of seasons and has a contract with Red Bull until 2028. However, internal issues within the Austrian team have cast doubt over the 26-year-old’s future.

Red Bull and new partner Ford are reportedly lagging behind Mercedes and Ferrari ahead of the new engine regulations in 2026.

Wolff anticipates a decision on the vacant seat around the summer months, and he says joining forces with the “extraordinary” Verstappen“needs to happen at a certain stage.”

He added to Fox Sports Australia: “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.”

Mercedes missed the opportunity to sign the Dutchman in 2014 when he raced in European Formula 3 as Red Bull offered him an F1 drive with Toro Rosso for 2015, something Wolff’s team couldn’t match.

Max Verstappen driving his Red Bull in Australia
Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

When speaking to De Telegraaf, Wolff admitted he is prepared to wait until Verstappen’s situation is clear before committing to Hamilton’s replacement.

“Yes, I am certainly prepared to do that. I want to wait for that.”

The 52-year-old added: “It’s a great opportunity. And a few months ago I didn’t expect that opportunity to even exist. 

“We knew that Lewis could leave after this year when he signed his contract. But at the same time it creates momentum for us now that we have choices. 

“Ferrari and McLaren do not have any seats available for the time being. I want to give my thoughts free rein for the next two to three months and then decide which direction to take. We would rather walk towards the right decision than run towards the wrong one.”

Verstappen has dominated the past couple of years in Formula 1. In 2023, he won his third title at a canter, claiming victory in 19 of the 22 races, and taking 10 consecutive wins at one stage.

The Dutchman also leads this year’s championship despite failing to finish in Australia last time out.

The ongoing saga at Red Bull has caused disturbance amongst the team despite the superb start to the season on the track.

The Mercedes team boss remained coy when asked by Sky Deutschland about the chances of signing Verstappen and said the main aim is improving the W15 car rather than the driver market.

“I can’t be the judge of that. I don’t know how the atmosphere there is and what the current state is.

“Max is a topic and will always be one. As I said, we have to focus on our car first.”