Toto Wolff admits hiring Sebastian Vettel would appeal to Mercedes but stresses a decision over its driver line-up for the 2021 Formula 1 season will be influenced by “long-term strategy”.
Mercedes is expected to retain the same line-up of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas for 2021 but Sebastian Vettel’s impending departure from Ferrari at the end of the year has left the four-time world champion available on the market.
While Wolff conceded a move for Vettel would have marketing value for Mercedes, he insisted the reigning world champion squad remains committed to “pursuing a long-term strategy” that is “primarily focused on performance”.
“Of course a German driver in a German car might be a good marketing strategy but we are primarily focused on performance,” Wolff told Austrian broadcaster ORF.
“Sebastian is someone who is really good, but it’s also about pausing a long-term strategy, which we have always done over the past few years, and that’s where we are somewhat on the long leash of Mercedes. They let us make our decisions.”
Vettel is a standout candidate Mercedes could pursue should it want to make any changes to its current line-up, while promoting its impressive junior George Russell from Williams is another option.
Explaining the criteria Mercedes considers when selecting its drivers during an in-house video, Wolff said: “There is a data side of things.
“You look at race results, back into the junior formulas, you look at comparisons with team mates and how these team mates compared to other people, and then there is the personality side, which is very important.
“How would the driver fit into the team structure? What would the dynamic be with the driver who could be his team mate? What’s the planning for the future?
“All these factors are being in a way compounded. We are discussing that in a forum, everyone gives their opinion, and most often everybody in that group has the same opinion anyway.”
Wolff also revealed how much he has been in contact with his drivers, who are both out of contract at the end of 2020, during the current suspension to racing caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I very much leave it to the drivers,” he said. “When there is nothing urgent, I leave it to them to manage the communication. I haven’t spoken to Valtteri, I think he is in a good place personally, and I am happy about that.
“With Lewis, I’ve been very much in contact, we’ve spoken regularly with Whatsapp very often, keeping each other up to date.”