Formula One World Championship, WM, Weltmeisterschaft Rd19, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Qualifying, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Saturday 22 November 2014. Max Verstappen NDL Scuderia Toro Rosso and Toto Wolff AUT Mercedes AMG F1 Director of Motorsport. Formula One World Championship, Rd19, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Qualifying, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Saturday 22 November 2014. This image is the property of the EAA. Please refer to T&Cs for usage. PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxHUNxONLY dpl1422no023

Wolff admits Verstappen number one pick to replace Hamilton

Formula One World Championship, WM, Weltmeisterschaft Rd19, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Qualifying, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Saturday 22 November 2014. Max Verstappen NDL Scuderia Toro Rosso and Toto Wolff AUT Mercedes AMG F1 Director of Motorsport. Formula One World Championship, Rd19, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Qualifying, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Saturday 22 November 2014. This image is the property of the EAA. Please refer to T&Cs for usage. PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxHUNxONLY dpl1422no023

Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff admitted that Max Verstappen is top of his list of possible drivers to replace Ferrari-bound Lewis Hamilton if the Red Bull ace should become available.

The Dutch triple F1 world champion has a contract with Red Bull until 2028 but his future at the team has been clouded by a breakdown in relations between his father Jos and principal Christian Horner.

Mercedes are losing seven-time F1 World Champion Hamilton at the end of the season to Ferrari, with Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix winner Carlos Sainz losing his seat.

“We have a slot free, the only one in the top teams — unless Max decides he goes and then the slot is not going to be free with us anymore,” Wolff told Fox Sports Australia in an interview in Melbourne.

The interview, conducted after qualifying, was not widely picked up at the time but the strong comments drew attention later.

Asked if Verstappen would be the number one pick, Wolff replied: “Yes. You see what his performance levels are but I wouldn’t want to discount the other ones too.”

Apart from Verstappen and Alonso and Sainz are also prominent candidates for Mercedes

alonso-sainz

Wolff neglected to sign Verstappen as a teenager before he joined Red Bull who had a Toro Rosso ready for him while Wolff could not offer him an F1 seat immediately and had hedged his bets on Esteban Ocon.

The Austrian said he had a good relationship with Jos Verstappen and had met at the time in Vienna to discuss future possibilities but the driver had already an offer from Red Bull at that point.

“It’s a kind of relationship that needs to happen at a certain stage, but we don’t know when,” Wolff said when asked if signing Verstappen could close a circle.

Wolff also mentioned double world champion Fernando Alonso, Sainz and Mercedes-backed F2 rookie Kimi Antonelli as possible options: “Obviously there’s Fernando, who’s very exciting, and Carlos, very good. So there’s a few ones.”

Verstappen has not ruled out a move to Mercedes in the long term but said in Australia he was comfortable at his “second family” Red Bull and it would be a great story to finish his F1 career with them.

Once-dominant Mercedes failed to win a race last season and suffered a double retirement in Melbourne, their first since 2018. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin}