Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff has confirmed the race for the free seat with the team for 2020 is a straight fight between Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon.

Wolff confirmed last month that Mercedes would make a call on Bottas' future with the team over the summer break, with the Finn bidding to extend his stay with the German marque into a fourth season next year.

Mercedes has an option to re-sign Bottas for next year, but has young reserve driver Esteban Ocon waiting in the wings after impressing through the early part of the year, making him a consideration to become Lewis Hamilton's teammate for 2020.

Recent speculation has linked Ocon's fellow Mercedes junior George Russell with the seat, while an approach for Red Bull's Max Verstappen has also been suggested.

But when speaking on Saturday in Hungary, Wolff confirmed that the fight was solely between Bottas and Ocon for the drive.

"It’s a question between Esteban and Valtteri. We’ve been discussing it for a long time within the team, and I’ve been wrestling within myself on what is the right thing for the team and what is the right thing for the drivers," Wolff said.

"If we were to have only one of them, it would be a no-brainer to have them in the car. And in a way, both deserve the seat: Esteban because he has been in tough situations and he certainly has the motivation and the energy and the talent to be in a Mercedes.

"On the other side, Valtteri has the experience and has proven again how fast he can go, and he’s tremendously supportive in developing the team together with Lewis.

"There’s lots of pros, some cons, and in the end what we decided is to really don’t think about it more, wait for the Budapest weekend to pass, stick our heads together over the summer and come to a decision that is best for the team and best for both, because we care for both."

Were Mercedes to retain Bottas and pass on Ocon, it is unclear whether the Frenchman would remain part of its stable amid enquiries from a number of teams for next year.

A possible departure for Ocon would make Williams driver Russell the most senior member of Mercedes' junior programme. The Briton has impressed in his rookie F1 season with Williams so far this season, but Wolff said it would be too early for him to move up to Mercedes for next year.

"I don’t think that you are given the possibility to learn in a Mercedes, because you are being put in a car that is able to win races and championships in a high-pressure environment," Wolff said.

"I think it can go terribly wrong for a young driver who has the talent to become a world champion if he is thrown in that environment against the best driver of his generation who has been with us for seven years, and I wouldn’t want to burn George."

Wolff added: "I think it would come too early, and on top of that we try to be respectful to all contracts we sign, and we signed a contract, we knew what we were doing and we made it with Williams and this is where he is and this is where he has got to learn."

Wolff also addressed speculation linking Verstappen with Mercedes for next year amid suggestions of an escape clause in his Red Bull contract, ruling out a possible switch.

"I’ve said so many positive things about Max that he doesn’t need any more of that. But equally he’s at Red Bull, he has a contract," Wolff said.

"He’s committed to Red Bull, which I like to see how he says that, because I wouldn’t want to have any driver in my team looking over the fence of what opportunity is out there. You’ve got to be committed to where you are.

"He’s committed to Red Bull. This is where he’s racing this year, this is where he’s racing the year after - anything else is very much out in the open."

 

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