Wolff: Vettel interest remarks not just "lip service"
Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff insists the team's interest in Sebastian Vettel is not just "lip service".
The news that Vettel won't be staying with Ferrari beyond the end of this season has inevitably sparked speculation about his future, with Mercedes widely regarded as a possible home.
Wolff already has George Russell lined up as a potential replacement for Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas in 2021 if there is a vacancy. Esteban Ocon – the team's other protege – remains committed to Renault for a further season.
Wolff says that the team is in no hurry to make any decisions about its future line-up, despite the flurry of activity that followed the Vettel news, with Carlos Sainz signing for Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo for McLaren.
"We were quite surprised with the early movements because you need to start the season with a driver that you know you're going to lose," said Wolff.
"It's very tricky to develop a car without having that driver be part of it, and every single driver needs to be a team player as well, and that becomes second priority in my opinion for the relevant guy. For us we want to take our time.
"Our priority lies on the Mercedes drivers, Valtteri and Lewis, and then obviously George and the Williams situation we're looking at with interest. Beyond that you do not discount any driver.
"This is why I said I don't want to discount Sebastian as a four-time world champion, because who knows what happens in the next months?
"If I had told you in January that we would not have any racing in the first half of the year nobody would have believed it. So in that respect we are just keeping our options open at this stage."
Pressed on whether keeping Vettel in the frame was just paying lip service, Wolff insisted that there was more to it, and recalled how Nico Rosberg's sudden retirement left the team in search of a driver at the end of the 2016 season.
"First of all, it's not lip service. I think we owe it to a four-time world champion not to come out and say straight away 'No.' You need to think about it.
"On the other side we have a fantastic line-up, and I'm happy with both our pilots, and George. But you never know. One of them may decide that he doesn't want to go racing any more, and suddenly you have a vacant spot.
"And this is why I don't want to come out in June and say, 'No chance, Sebastian is not racing for us.' First of all I wouldn't do to him as a driver, to be that blunt, and on the other side I've seen black swans appearing when nobody expected.
"Remember Nico Rosberg. In that respect we're just keeping our options open, but of course concentrating our discussions with our current drivers."
Asked about Hamilton's situation, Wolff insisted that there have been no discussions about extending the contract of the six-time world champion.
"We didn't see each other lockdown, but we were in regular contact. But we didn't work on any agreement. Between us there is a lot of trust.
"We have been together for a long time, and never in these years together we had to take the contract out and actually read what was written in there, because it comes so naturally.
"And therefore once racing resumes we're going to spend some time together, dig the contract out of the cupboard, look at the timings and the numbers and the rights and hopefully have something pretty soon."
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