Verstappen catches the eye but Mercedes chief Wolff rules out 'flirting' with F1 new generation

By Sports Desk March 02, 2021

Toto Wolff admitted Max Verstappen is a driver who will be "on everybody's radar" but has vowed Mercedes will not rush to seduce the Red Bull star.

Mercedes team principal Wolff will be aware that reports have linked Verstappen with a possible future move to the Silver Arrows, possibly as a long-term replacement for Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton.

For now, though, Hamilton is going nowhere, having signed a contract for the upcoming 2021 season, and the British driver may yet remain for years to come.

After landing a seventh drivers' title last year to match Michael Schumacher's F1 record, there is no driver that Mercedes would take above Hamilton in the present time.

Wolff said: "The symbiosis that we have in the relationship, it's always that we have a mutual understanding of what we want to do in the future. That will be also the case in the discussions with Lewis going forward.

"Max is certainly an outstanding young driver that will be on everybody's radar in the future, but we are not flirting outside before we have a clear understanding with our two drivers."

Verstappen has finished third in the championship in each of the last two seasons, with the 23-year-old winning races at Silverstone and Abu Dhabi during the 2020 campaign.

He tallied 214 points to finish just nine points behind Mercedes' runner-up Valtteri Bottas in the championship.

Quoted widely after Mercedes unveiled their new W12 car on Tuesday, Wolff underlined how Mercedes are not blinkered about the team's future and the potential for a change of direction.

Bottas is also due to reach the end of his contract after the new campaign, meaning Mercedes currently have flexibility should they wish to reshape their driver line-up for 2022 and beyond.

"Our first discussions are going to be with Valtteri and Lewis in respecting our values, integrity and loyalty - but on the other side the young drivers are the future," Wolff said.

"Therefore we need to consider how we want to set ourselves up for the years beyond."

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    Lewis Hamilton says his fifth-placed finish at the Spanish Grand Prix felt "better than a win" after he recovered from a first-lap puncture that left him in 19th position.

    Starting from P6, Hamilton suffered the puncture following contact from Haas driver Kevin Magnussen on the first lap in Barcelona and suggested to his Mercedes team he should retire from the race to preserve the car's engine after rejoining at the back of the field.

    But the seven-time champion produced an excellent drive after his enforced pit-stop and looked on course to finish fourth before a coolant leak allowed Ferrari's Carlos Sainz to edge him out late on.

    Speaking after the race, Hamilton considered the circumstances he was forced to overcome en route to a strong points finish.

    "To have that problem and come back, it felt like some of the older races I've done," Hamilton said. "It feels amazing.

    "I was thinking it was impossible to get back into points, but the team said 'no, you're on for eighth'. I thought they were being super-optimistic.

    "I'm glad we didn't [retire] and it just shows you never stop and never give up, and that's what I did.

    "A race like that is like a win, and it actually feels better than a win when you have come from so far back."

    Since losing out on a record eighth world title in the closing seconds of the final race of the 2021 campaign, when Max Verstappen clinched his first championship in controversial circumstances, Hamilton has endured a frustrating time.

    The 37-year-old, who has only secured one podium this campaign, has been critical of Mercedes' W13 car on numerous occasions this year, calling it "undriveable" after finishing 13th at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix last month. 

    But Hamilton believes the team's work on the car has improved it greatly, and he suggested he could have joined team-mate George Russell – in third – in challenging the two Red Bull drivers, who secured their second one-two in three races, if not for his early problems.

    "We have made a lot of improvements with the car and the race pace is much better, the car is much nicer in the race," he added. "We have some improvements to make in qualifying.

    "If I hadn't had that [issue], I would have been fighting with the Red Bulls."

  • Verstappen triumphs in Barcelona after 'not nice' early struggles Verstappen triumphs in Barcelona after 'not nice' early struggles

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    The reigning world champion claimed his third consecutive Formula One victory in Barcelona on Sunday, profiting after title rival Charles Leclerc retired with a technical issue when seemingly on course to win.

    Verstappen now holds a six-point lead at the top of the standings, an outcome that did not look likely when the Dutchman dropped from second to fourth after spinning in the early stages, as Leclerc built a huge lead.

    The Dutchman also voiced his concerns on team radio as persistent issues with his DRS system hindered his attempts to pass Mercedes' George Russell during a thrilling tussle between the duo.

    Verstappen, though, kept his focus and, after some help from team orders, recorded his first win in Spain since 2016, when he took his first-ever F1 victory at the same circuit.

    Team-mate Sergio Perez was second in a great result for Red Bull, with Russell taking the final spot on the podium ahead of Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton.

    "Of course I went off - I suddenly had a lot of tailwind, so I just lost the rear and went off," Verstappen said about his ninth-lap error.

    "Then I was obviously in the train and trying to pass but my DRS was not always working. That made it very tough.

    "But we managed use strategy to get ahead again [with three pit stops]. We tried to do our own race and eventually we got the win. So it was a difficult beginning but a good end.

    "I just tried to stay focused - of course it is not nice when stuff like that happens - but at the end I am very happy to win and happy for Checo." 

    Verstappen insisted his anger on team radio related to his car issues, not at the way Russell was defending his position. 

    "It was more frustration because of my DRS," he said. "It is a great result for the team. The behaviour of the car was good on the softs."

    As for Russell, third place represented a continuation of his strong start to the F1 season with Mercedes even as the team lacks its normal pace.

    The Briton has finished in the top five for all six races so far, with this being his second podium.

    "I gave everything I could do to hold Max off," he said. "I would love to say that [that Mercedes are back], I am proud to be standing here [in the top three]. 

    "It hurt us a lot but when I had the Red Bull in the mirrors all I was doing was the maximum to keep them behind. It is a lot of points on the board for us and well done to Max."

    Next up for the drivers is the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix, which will take place on May 29.

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    Leclerc looked set to increase his advantage over Verstappen in searing heat at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, but the Ferrari driver's race was over when he lost power while leading comfortably on lap 23.

    Verstappen had been in the gravel on lap nine and also suffered DRS issues, but the Dutchman led a Red Bull one-two for his third consecutive win to move above Leclerc in the driver standings after Sergio Perez let him through under team orders on lap 49 of 66.

    George Russell finished third, with his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton worked his way back through the field to take fifth place behind Carlos Sainz despite suffering a puncture on the first lap.

    Leclerc got a good start to retain his lead, but Hamilton's miserable start to the season was summed up when his he made contact with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen - who went into the gravel - at Turn 4 on the opening lap.

    Hamilton limped to the pits with a front-left puncture and was told to continue after suggesting over the team radio that he retires from the race, having returned to the track in 19th place.

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    Russell pitted from second place and Verstappen was also called in on lap 14, with Leclerc leading by over nine seconds.

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    It was all going so well for Leclerc until he lost power with a win there for the taking and Perez soon passed Russell on fresher tyres to take the lead after Verstappen pitted for a new set of softs.

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    Perez allowed Verstappen to pass him under team orders and there were no further twists in a pulsating race, with a surging Hamilton passing Sainz to finish fourth until a late technical issue caused him to concede the place back.

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