Toto Wolff has confirmed that Mercedes will “monitor” Sebastian Vettel’s situation now he is leaving Ferrari and that F1’s world champions cannot yet rule the German out of a 2021 drive.
Vettel’s F1 future beyond this year is hugely uncertain after the four-time champion and Ferrari decided to part ways at the end of the year.
Mercedes are now the only one of F1’s leading teams yet to sign up either of their drivers for next season, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas’ deals expiring in December.
Hamilton, in particular, is expected to strike a new deal and the prospect of Mercedes teaming the six-time champion with long-time rival Vettel in what would be the most decorated F1 line-up of all time is still considered unlikely.
Nonetheless, in an interview with Sky Sports F1’s Martin Brundle, Wolff said: “Sebastian is a four-time world champion and him suddenly becoming available was unexpected.
“And, therefore, it is a situation that needs to be monitored.
“Where could he potentially go, where are we with our drivers, and what I said (before) is I wouldn’t discount Sebastian for any seat.
“We have looked at the situation. Our priority and concentration is on our Mercedes drivers — that’s Lewis, Valtteri and the juniors. George Russell being one of them; Esteban Ocon is obviously a Renault driver today.
“And only if we can’t find a solution within that group of drivers we will look elsewhere and then obviously Sebastian is in a very good position.”
Speaking in a later press conference with the wider media, Wolff said it is not simply out of respect for Vettel that he is not yet discounting the 32-year-old.
Wolff pointed to then-newly-crowned world champion Nico Rosberg’s sudden retirement at the end of 2016 as an example of how the driver market can be turned on its head completely out of the blue.
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Sebastian Vettel joining Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes would be the biggest news of the year.Source:Getty Images
“It’s not lip service, but we owe it to a four-time champion not to come out and say straight away ‘no’. You need to think about it,” said Wolff.
“On the other side, we have a fantastic line-up and I’ve very happy with both our pilots and George (Russell), but you never know. One of them may decide 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’. 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 when nobody suspected — remember Nico Rosberg.
“In that respect, we’re just keeping our options open, but of course concentrating our discussions with our current drivers.”
WOLFF HOPES HAMILTON CONTRACT AGREED ‘PRETTY SOON’
Mercedes are out-of-sync compared to their F1 rivals in terms of driver contracts for 2021, with Ferrari already confirming Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz as their line-up, while Max Verstappen is on a long-term deal at Red Bull.
But Wolff explained that he expects to kickstart discussions with Hamilton once the season gets going next month.
“We didn’t see each other over lockdown, we were in different parts of the world, but we were in regular contact,” he said. “But we didn’t work on any agreement.
“Between us there is a lot of trust, we have been together for a long time, and never in these years together (have) we had to take the contracts out and read what was written in them because it comes so naturally.
“Therefore, once racing resumes, we’re going to spend some time together, take the contract out of the cupboard, look at the timings and the numbers and the rights, and hopefully have something pretty soon.”
This article first appeared on Sky Sports and was reproduced with permission
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