Ex-Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has warned the paddock not to dismiss rumours and mounting speculation about Mercedes quitting the sport at the end of 2020 to focus on being an engine supplier.
In Brazil, after Mercedes won its sixth consecutive F1 drivers’ and constructors’ championships this season, there are rumours that American racing legend Roger Penske could buy the German team.
Penske immediately denied it, former F1 supremo Ecclestone told the Daily Mail: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Mercedes stopped F1. There has been change at the top and the new people are not so enthusiastic about Formula 1 as the old people used to be.
“They might think we have won seven world championships – which they will have done by the end of next year – so why stay?” the 89-year-old said.
Ecclestone, who spends much of his time at his Brazilian coffee plantation, said Mercedes quitting would be the perfect opportunity for Lewis Hamilton to follow suit, “If I were Lewis I’d think, ‘I’ve won another title’, and I’d stop.
“If Charles Leclerc stays at Ferrari, I’d put money on him to win against Lewis. He’s not necessarily better but he is established in the team.
“Ferrari is a strange place to work. Lewis doesn’t speak Italian. They might gang up on him – or fall in love with him – but I don’t think he would do as good a job for himself or the sport as he is doing with Mercedes.
“With Sebastian Vettel or Lewis they will only get a couple of years but with the younger two [Leclerc and Max Verstappen] they might get 10 years,” Ecclestone said.
“I’m not sure Max isn’t the best guy at the moment, including Lewis.”
Meanwhile, Ecclestone isn’t so sure that Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff will be the next man to fill his former shoes.
In Wolff’s rare absence this weekend in Brazil, rumours are abounding that the Silver Arrows boss is lining up to replace Liberty Media’s F1 CEO Chase Carey.
But Carey’s predecessor, Ecclestone, told the Daily Mail that Wolff’s ascendency to the top job could be difficult, “Toto’s good at management and he has shown that at Mercedes.
“But it’s easy when people have to agree with you, I’m not sure he finds it so easy if people can’t be controlled,” ventured the 89-year-old.
And that’s not the only problem. Corriere della Sera reports that Ferrari could stand in the way of Wolff rising to the top job in F1.
“Some say Wolff is reflecting on his future,” wrote correspondent Daniele Sparisci.
“His name is circulating as a possible substitute for Chase Carey, but it seems that Ferrari has been skilful on a political level by introducing a ban on team principals moving into top positions at Liberty.”
Ecclestone agrees: “Ferrari have a veto.”