Toto Wolff is keen on bringing Max Verstappen to Mercedes for 2022 and could even replace Lewis Hamilton with the Dutchman if the Briton decides to call time on his Formula One career. Hamilton signed a one-year contract extension with the Silver Arrows this week.
Wolff has said that both Mercedes and Hamilton wanted only to extend the 36-year-old’s deal by 12 months and to commit him for just the 2021 season.
The seven-time world champion can claim a record-breaking eighth Drivers’ Championship this season and could also surpass 100 race wins and pole positions. He already holds the record for both statistics with 95 wins and 98 poles.
Hamilton is already statistically the greatest F1 driver of all time but will look to hammer home the point with a strong 2021 after finishing 124 points clear of Valtteri Bottas last season.
And some have suggested that Hamilton may only have wanted to sign a one-year extension in case he decides to call it a day after winning an eighth title, as he is expected to do.
Hamilton’s father Anthony told talkSPORT: “There’s a realisation that obviously he’s getting older and wants to do other things in life. There’s more to life than racing, but for now he’s happy to do another year.”
Amid suggestions Hamilton could retire from F1 in 12 months’ time, the Daily Mail say Mercedes team principal Wolff is eyeing a move to steal Verstappen from Red Bull for 2022.
Similar claims have been made by Dutch racing driver Tom Coronel, who told RacingNews365: “Mercedes is still very interested in Verstappen, they make no secret of it. We therefore know that there is regular contact.”
Verstappen is under contract with the Austrian drinks company’s F1 team until 2023 but it has been reported previously that there is a ‘break clause’ in his contract at the end of 2021.
Red Bull must match Verstappen’s title-winning ambitions and provide him with a car capable of delivering the Drivers’ Championship or risk losing him in the coming years.
The 23-year-old, son of ex-F1 driver Jos Verstappen, has made no secret of his desire to topple Hamilton and become the first ever racer from the Netherlands to win a world title.
If Mercedes can maintain their current advantage over the likes of Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari after the 2022 regulations are introduced then the Silver Arrows may grant him his best chance of a Drivers’ Championship.
But the Brackley-based outfit will surely only make a concerted pursuit to prise Verstappen from Red Bull if Hamilton is no longer around.
Wolff has spoken on multiple occasions of his desire to avoid a repeat scenario of the on-track and off-track fireworks between Hamilton and his former team-mate Nico Rosberg.
The team have worked far more harmoniously since Valtteri Bottas replaced 2016 world champion Rosberg four years ago and Hamilton has enjoyed having the Finn alongside him in the garage.
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And Verstappen and Hamilton have already had some run-ins, with the latter saying the Red Bull driver has to be treated differently in wheel-to-wheel combat.
“Max, it’s very likely you’re going to come together with Max if you don’t give him extra space. So most of the time you do,” he said.
Verstappen to Mercedes would be a blockbuster move given the Dutchman is widely considered the second-best on the grid after Hamilton.
Another strong contender for a Mercedes drive in 2022, when both Hamilton and Bottas will be out of contract, is George Russell.
The Mercedes junior driver will spend the final of three seasons with Williams this year and has done well despite the Grove team being the grid’s backmarkers.
Russell displayed his racecraft when Williams allowed the 22-year-old to replace Hamilton, absent with COVID-19, at the Sakhir Grand Prix.
Despite ending up in ninth, Russell twice looked the likely race winner before a team pitstop error and then a puncture in Bahrain.
The Mail say that Mercedes could even pursue Verstappen and Russell to replace Hamilton and Bottas in what would be a drastic switch-up, but much may depend on whether or not Hamilton intends to continue into 2022.