Wolff still courting Verstappen, while Horner scoffs

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Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has suggested that he still sees a tantalizing opportunity to lure Max Verstappen to the Brackley squad, but his Red Bull counter-part Christian Horner insists the Austrian is barking up the wrong tree.

Allegations of internal unrest at Red Bull and a potential power struggle between Horner and the energy drink’s motorsport advisor Helmut Marko cast a shadow over the team's early success this season.

Rumors swirled about Verstappen’s potential departure from the team and a sensational transfer to Mercedes, innuendo subtlety maintained by Wolff over the past month, with the Austrian openly declaring his interest in the Dutchman as a successor to Ferrari-bound Lewis Hamilton.

Despite Red Bull’s dominant position in F1, Wolff hinted that “other elements” could perhaps convince Verstappen to seek a new challenge, although a transfer to Mercedes would hardly equate to a move to greener pastures for the three-time world champion.

“There are so many factors that play a role in a driver joining,” Wolff told the media in China.

“Clearly when you look at it from the most rational point of view, you can say ‘that's the quickest car in the hands of the quickest driver’.

“But I don't think this is the only reason you stay where you are. Let's say [for] simple minds, that might be the only reason why you stay in a car and that's it.

“But maybe there are more depths for some people that consider other factors too. I think that Max has that.”

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Wolff believes that he would not need to persuade Verstappen to join Mercedes, as the Dutchman is perfectly capable of assessing the situation on his own.

“In that respect, are we able to convince him? I don't think it's a matter of convincing,” he added.

“I think that Max knows motor racing better than anyone, 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 is the one that's going to trigger some more domino stones to fall in afterwards. Everybody's waiting for what he's going to do.

“If I was Max I would stay at Red Bull in 2025 - but I’m not Max. It is the quickest car but there are still other factors.”

Asked directly if there is a chance Mercedes can sign Verstappen for 2025, Wolff replied: “If I say this, I might fuck up my whole strategy.”

Further up the pitlane, Horner hit back at Wolff’s comments, insisting the Mercedes boss is wrongly reading Verstappen’s situation, reminding him that his driver is contracted to the team until the end of 2028.

He also encouraged his nemesis to focus on his team’s most pressing issues rather than on an unavailable driver.

"I'm going to think carefully about what I say here," Horner reacted.

"Have you spoken to Max about this? Because if you speak to Max – and it’s not about pieces of paper at the end of the day, we know that he has a contract to 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."

When questioned about whether he would appreciate his star driver personally ending the speculation about his future, Horner said that Verstappen had done just that, on multiple occasions.

“I don’t know how many more times he needs to say it. He said it numerous times. I’m not going get drawn into it – I think sometimes it’s just designed to create noise,” Horner responded.

“We moved today ahead of the number of races that Mercedes have won in the modern era, so the team [Red Bull] is in form, why on earth would you want to leave this team?" he asked.

“Mercedes are the third team behind their customers at the moment, so I would think his [Wolff’s] time would be better spent perhaps focusing on the team rather than the driver market.

"Have any of you heard George Russell is out of contract at the end of ’25? You know, maybe he might not be so keen to stay in ’26 – you know, the market moves around.

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

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