Mercedes 'looking to mid-to-long term' with driver choice

Toto Wolff, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas celebrate title success in Brazil in 2018.
© / @MercedesAMGF1

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has revealed that he's adjusting his approach to driver line-up when it comes to the next few seasons.

Having vehemently denied that Mercedes might pull out of F1 in the next year or two, Wolff stated that in fact they were already looking to the longer-term future - which could influence who drives for the team in 2021 and beyond.

Lewis Hamilton is still in pole position to retain his seat at Brackley, with Wolff telling Sky Sports F1 that the reigning world champion is expected to quickly sign a new deal once contract negotiations begin.

"We need to make sure our short-term future is in good hands, and there are no better hands out there than Lewis'," Wolff told Martin Brundle. "The moment Lewis touches down back in Europe we will carve out what needs to be carved out.

"We're keeping in contact with each other regularly," he continued. "We have been in different parts of the world but very much keep ourselves in the loop of what is happening."

Wolff explained why he didn't feel there was any rush to sign a new contract with Hamilton.

"If you trust, and I think our relationship is based on trust, you know that your partner is not going to let you down," he said. "Formula 1 is a tough business, but I think what this team does differently is that loyalty and trust are important values. And we live by them every day.

"We have been together for eight years now and the agreements don't need to be reinvented. There is a good basis and I believe we could come to a point pretty swiftly."

However his follow-up comments perhaps augur less well for Valtteri Bottas, who has been with the team since 2017 albeit on one-year contracts.

"Our mid-to-long-term strategy is being considered," Wolff stated, suggesting that Mercedes is already into 'succession planning' with regard to who will eventually take over from Hamilton.

At 30-years-old, Bottas faces significant threats from bright young talents, including Mercedes protege George Russell who earned praise for his drives with the Williams team during his debut F1 season in 2019

Wolff also helps manage the career of Esteban Ocon. Despite the French driver's switch to Renault for 2020, he's another rising star in the frame for any future vacancy with the Silver Arrows outfit.

Brundle suggested that Mercedes were "spoiled for talent", but Wolff insisted that the team had to stay on its toes in the face of increasing challenges elsewhere on the grid.

"Yes but we must not be complacent," he said. "Red Bull has two very talented drivers, Ferrari has very talented drivers. I think the combination they've chosen is very good."

Meanwhile Wolff himself is keen to get back to racing after an unprecedentedly long lay off due to the coronavirus shutdown. The 2020 season will finally start with a packed initial calendar of races in Europe during July and August.

"Everyone at our plants in Brackley and Brixworth is relieved that it's finally starting," he acknowledged. "We love the competition, we missed it.

"The programme is challenging, but we owe it to the fans to race again and hopefully give them a good show," he said, while adding it was a shame that the first events would have to be held behind closed doors.

"Unfortunately we won't have fans, the event will be reduced to pure competition - in other words, to what we love the most!" he said.

But Wolff added that the long delay had actually helped reignite his passion for the sport.

"When we flew to Australia in March, my joy was not as great as usual at the beginning of a season," he admitted. "Perhaps it was because we had had six very intense years that there was still some mental exhaustion.

"Today I feel totally different," he said. "I'm really starving to go racing again!"

Gallery: The beautiful wives and girlfriends of F1 drivers

Keep up to date with all the F1 news via Facebook and Twitter