Toto Wolff says Mercedes will not engage in talks with other drivers until it gets clarity on the future of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Both Mercedes drivers are contracted to the Brackley squad for this year only, a state of affairs that has sparked a whirlwind of speculation regarding the team's 2022 line-up.
Mercedes protégés George Russell and Esteban Ocon are earmarked as potential replacements for either Hamilton or Bottas, or perhaps both, while Max Verstappen is also seen as a possible candidate if Red Bull fails to deliver a winning car to the Dutchman this season.
But Wolff insists that no talks will take place with any prospects until Mercedes gets a clear understanding of where it stands with Hamilton and Bottas.
However, Wolff intends on opening talks with his current line-up much earlier in the year.
"We have agreed that we want to pick up the discussions much earlier this year, to avoid a situation like we had in 2020 – run out of time and be in the uncomfortable position that there is no time left before the beginning of the season," Wolff said at the launch of Mercedes' new W12.
"And that is also why we only did a 1-year contract in order to allow us to discuss the future in racing and outside of racing longer and with the right amount of time."
Wolff didn't deny that Verstappen could eventually figure in Mercedes 2022 plans should Hamilton decide to call it a day and retire from F1.
"The symbiosis that we have in the relationship is always that we have a mutual understanding of what we want to do in the future, and that will also be the case in the discussions with Lewis going forward." explained Wolff.
"And Max is certainly an outstanding young driver that will be on everybody’s radar in the future, but (as I said before) we are not flirting outside before we have a clear understanding with our 2 drivers."
Wolff also admitted that circumstances could lead to a complete refresh of Mercedes' driver line-up.
"Well it’s never both because I can always jump in and drive the car, it’s just one cockpit that remains free!" the Austrian joked.
"As a matter of fact, I think if Lewis continues to race we will want to do this together and we will discuss that shortly, and with Valtteri we know exactly what we have and we appreciate this.
"At the same time, the landscape changes with new cars, with new regulations and we have got to take the right decision for the team going forward.
"But that also means that we will have the discussions with our 2 drivers first, and then we will see where that goes."
Wolff elaborated on his "we know what we have" comment regarding Bottas whose seat at Mercedes is certainly coveted by Russell.
"What I have didn’t mean that he hasn’t got what it takes to have a run at the world championship," Wolff said.
"I think we have seen fantastic performances over the last few years, just not the stability throughout the season and Valtteri is always going to have unconditional support from the team (and that’s not going to change in 2021 either) in order to perform as good as he can and he knows that it is within his own hands to influence the future.
"As for George, we also know what we have in George and the future is bright for George in any case and it depends how the driver situation within Mercedes pans out."