Toto Wolff has revealed Mercedes was unable to offer Max Verstappen any “interesting enough opportunities” at the start of his Formula 1 career to prevent him opting for Red Bull.
While Verstappen was causing a stir in European Formula 3 in summer 2014, Autosport revealed he was being courted by both Mercedes and the Red Bull junior program. He was signed to a Toro Rosso deal aged just 16, with promotion to Red Bull Racing following this month after just 23 grands prix.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner acknowledged that bringing Verstappen into the senior team was partly motivated to “kill off” the chances of rival squads pouncing for him.
Wolff had been seen in discussions with Verstappen’s father Jos during the Russian Grand Prix weekend, and joked “are you saying we helped him [switch to Red Bull]?” when quizzed about it.
Wolff added: “He’s a really good boy, and Jos is a decent guy. He knows the ins and outs of racing. I remember seeing Max first time around when he got a trophy in 2013 at the FIA awards in Paris when he drove a go-kart on and off the stage, and within two years that boy has made a name for himself in Formula 1, and for every reason. But we never had any serious discussions because it was clear he was in the Red Bull channels, and when it mattered for Max we couldn’t give him interesting enough opportunities.
“Red Bull was giving him the Toro Rosso seat, and obviously now within two years it has become clear they needed to give him a Red Bull drive. And here we go, everything has panned out in the way Jos has planned, and that’s great for him.”
RED BULL A THREAT AGAIN
Wolff, meanwhile, feels Red Bull is poised to strongly challenge Mercedes this season in the wake of its qualifying performance ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix. Red Bull locked out the second row behind Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with Daniel Ricciardo beating Verstappen by four tenths of a second to claim third on the grid, with Ferrari trailing.
With power unit supplier Renault’s upgraded engine due to make its debut at the coming week’s Barcelona test, Red Bull may yet usurp Ferrari as Mercedes’ nearest challenger.
“Red Bull in qualifying had quite some pace, and their long run looked good as well yesterday,” assessed Wolff. “We’ve heard the rumors that it [the Renault engine upgrade] is worth a couple of tenths that will be added to the car.
“Clearly it is a major step forward for Red Bull in terms of becoming a serious competitor again when you look at their performance today.”