Toto Wolff says he “certainly regrets” missing out on signing Verstappen a decade ago

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Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

It’s almost hard to imagine Max Verstappen anywhere else but in a Red Bull. It’s also difficult to comprehend now that he wasn’t destined to rise through the Red Bull junior programme. But of course Red Bull weren’t the only people aware of the young Dutchman’s talent prior to him joining Toro Rosso in 2014, and Mercedes’ team boss Toto Wolff was also in the conversation.

The subject came up when 51-year-old Austrian recently spoke to ESPN but according to Wolff, there was never a very real possibility of Verstappen joining the Brackley team.

In 2014, Mercedes’ driver line up consisted of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with the team beginning their run of dominating the hybrid era in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships, with only Verstappen denying them a perfect run of drivers’ titles in that time before the major regulation change for 2022.

Red Bull of course were in a far better position to develop and bring on young talent with the Toro Rosso junior team which had been part of the Red Bull operation since 2005 when Minardi was bought from previous owner Paul Stoddart.

However, this didn’t stop Wolff having a number of conversations with Verstappen, his father Jos and Huub Rothengatter (the manager) around 2013 and 2014:

“I spoke to Jos and Huub Rothengatter when they came to my office in Brackley and that must have been when Max was in karting or the end of his karting days just before Formula 3….And then we spoke again when Max and Jos visited me in my house in Vienna…We spent a few hours discussing his future…Do I regret missing out on Max? Certainly. But it wasn’t an option back in the day.”

The window to have Verstappen join the team swiftly closed, but Mercedes had an already formidable line up, as Wolff went on:

“We had two drivers that I was extremely happy with, in Nico (Rosberg) and Lewis, and when Nico left, Valtteri was then the option and Max wasn’t even available.”

But with a driver in the shape of multiple world champion Lewis Hamilton in the team, is a pairing with Verstappen likely to be a good one for the team? Wolff has his doubts:

“Would Max and Lewis have functioned? Maybe not….Lewis is a Mercedes guy since forever, so that hard question I never needed to ask myself for the organisation. Everything happens for a reason.”

Since Verstappen became a Red Bull driver, the Mercedes’ boss says they have had “friendly contact but never discussing driving” and that it “wasn’t entirely clear” how good the eventual double world champion would become, after being beaten in the 2014 European Formula 3 championship by Esteban Ocon (who would end up a Mercedes junior driver) in what Wolff said was a “more competitive car”.

Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Of course with hindsight it is easy to look back and see the path the victory Max Verstappen would take but as Wolff puts it: “It wasn’t clear back then”.