Wolff and Horner clash over Verstappen possibly joining Mercedes F1: “There’s no ambiguity”

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Toto Wolff and Christian Horner gave very different and conflicting views on what lies ahead for reigning three-time F1 world champion Max Verstappen. Whilst the Dutchman is locked in at Red Bull until the end of 2028 – as per his contract signed in early 2022 – question have arisen since team principal Christian Horner was involved in a scandal regarding controlling and inadequate behaviour towards a female employee of his team.

That in turn turned up the notch in a power struggle that already been going on for some time at the Austrian squad, with Helmut Marko and Christian Horner in opposing sides.

Verstappen made a clear statement at this year’s Saudi Arabian GP, tying his future at the team to that of Marko, and avoiding making such decisive comments in the case of Horner. All of this opened up questions on whether the current world champion would consider a move to a rival team, and Mercedes is a tempting proposition given their engine-manufacturing prowess ever since the start of the turbo hybrid era in 2014.

And whilst it may seem a stretch, it’s a prospect that Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal has been entertaining for the last few months ever since Lewis Hamilton’s shock exit to Ferrari was announced.

Speaking after the Chinese GP, Wolff explained how there are “many factors” at play when a driver is considering his future moves, with performance being the only factor only if you have a “simple minds” – and stated Verstappen isn’t that kind of driver with such a limited view:

“As for Max, there are so many factors that play a role for a driver joining. Clearly, when you look at it from the most rational point of view, you can say, ‘well, that’s the quickest car in the hands of the quickest driver.’ But I don’t think that this is the only reason you stay where you are.

“I think for, let’s say, simple minds, that might be the only reason why you stay in a car and that’s it. But maybe there’s more depth to some people that consider other factors too, and I think that Max has more depth. In that respect, are we able to convince him? I don’t think it’s a matter of convincing.

“I think that Max knows motor racing better than anyone and he will take decisions that he feels are good for him. I think a few factors play a role, but he’s the one that’s going to trigger some more domino stones to fall in afterwards. But everybody’s waiting for what he’s going to do.”

Asked whether he’s got enough of a case to convince Verstappen and his close personal team to join the Silver Arrows for the future, Wolff was adamant that he doesn’t need to “sell” his squad’s value to such an educated group when it comes to motorsport – but did point out that Mercedes’ 2026 engine is a “good value proposition” at the moment:

“I don’t think that anyone can sell anything to Max, Jos and Raymond,” he said. “The combined understanding of motorsport, whether you sell well or not, is not going to change anything. I believe it is a question of how they feel where the future is best for them, considering a lot of factors. I think we’re in a very good position for 2026.

We’re ambitious with the targets we set ourselves for the power unit, for the batteries, for the fuel. And I think if we’re able to produce a decent chassis, we’re a good value proposition. But who knows?”

Despite all of the courting, Wolff admitted there were no serious talk held with the Dutchman as of yet, and admitted the most logical option for Verstappen is to stay at Red Bull – for 2025 at least:

“You have conversations with many drivers, exploring the opportunities. So that isn’t in a way surprising. As for Max, no, we’re not at the point where we would have discussed years or stuff.

“If I was Max, I would stay at Red Bull in 2025. But I’m not Max.

“I’m really bad at signing, actually. Because it’s the quickest car, but there are other factors.”

When made aware of Wolff’s comments – also on his post-race session with selected media – Horner was left unimpressed, dismissing the claims from the Mercedes boss and saying he has to focus on his own team’s problems and claimed Verstappen is currently “unavailable”:

“Well, I’m going to think carefully what I say,” said Horner. “Have you spoken to Max about this? Because if you speak to Max, and certainly it’s not about pieces of paper at the end of the day. We know that he has a contract at the end of 2028.

“It’s about how he feels in the team and the relationship he has in the team and the way he’s performing. I don’t think Toto’s problems are his drivers. I think he’s probably got other elements that he needs to be focusing on rather than focusing on drivers that are unavailable.

“I don’t know how many more times [Max] needs to say it. He’s said it numerous times. I’m not going to get drawn into it.

“I think sometimes it’s just designed to create noise. We’ve moved today ahead of the amount of races that Mercedes-Benz have won in the modern era. The team’s in form.

“Why on earth would you want to leave this team? Mercedes-Benz are the third team behind their customers at the moment, so I would think his time would be better spent perhaps focusing on the team rather than the driver market.”

The 50-year-old went even further in his dismissal, saying there is “no ambiguity” on where the reigning three-time champion will be in 2025, and took a jab at the Austrian for talking about Verstappen in order to draw attention away from Mercedes’ poor start to the 2024 season:

“Have you heard that George Russell is out of contract at the end of 2025? Maybe he might not be so keen to stay in 2026. The market moves around.

“I can assure you that there is no ambiguity as to where Max Verstappen will be next year.

“Does Toto just talk about Max to avoid talking about his car and his team performance?”