Mercedes says lack of seats could bring end to F1 junior scheme

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has questioned the future of his company’s young driver programme amid difficulties in trying to find places in Formula 1 for his rising stars.

Mercedes says lack of seats could bring end to F1 junior scheme

The German car manufacturers' three youngsters – Esteban Ocon, George Russell and Pascal Wehrlein – are all facing an uncertain future, and Wolff has expressed some frustration with the struggles in securing available cockpits.

With Mercedes ruling out the purchase a junior team just to school its young drivers – as Red Bull did with Toro Rosso – Wolff does not know how best to move things forward.

And, if Mercedes' efforts to find the trio competitive seats fail, then Wolff has suggested that he will propose to his board whether or not it winds up the young driver push.

"[We have] three really talented kids with a lack of opportunities – and this has come to a point now where we need to decide what we do in the future," he said when asked by Motorsport.com about the future of the young drivers.

"Funding a junior team is not an option. Putting $80, $90, $100 million every year in a junior team just to give your young drivers a place is not what I would want to do.

"And on the other side, if the drivers are stigmatized as Mercedes drivers, then it seems to be not the best-selling proposition.

"Being a racer at heart, I still feel the best talent needs to be supported and developed, and I hope that we find a solution for these guys.

"If we cannot find a solution for these guys then I would question the junior programme in the future. And then we go back to a pay driver model."

He added: "If you cannot find a place for them in F1 then it doesn't make a lot of sense, and that would be a shame in terms of the driver level in F1.

"I will discuss that with the board and the management at the end of the year depending what the outcome is for George, Pascal and Esteban."

One of the other issues for Mercedes that has come up in recent weeks is the reluctance of some teams to take on board the Mercedes youngsters because of their close affiliation to the German car manufacturer.

With sources suggesting some teams would be especially interested in Ocon if he was free of links to Mercedes, Wolff has conceded that maybe the time has come to let his youngster go.

"Fundamentally why we do this is we take great enjoyment in helping young talent that lack finances," he said.

"But if our support works until F1 but then it is detrimental for these guys having the right seats, you need to consider these things. And then think what does it mean to be a Mercedes driver?

"At the moment, if you are driving for another team you are driving for another team and Esteban is not going to take any shit from me if he is driving Renault, McLaren or Williams, contrary to what has been said.

"So the whole system needs to be scrutinised in my opinion."

George Russell, ART Grand Prix

George Russell, ART Grand Prix

Photo by: FIA Formula 2

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