Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has explained the reason behind not signing Max Verstappen when the opportunity presented itself before the Dutch driver’s Formula 1 career took off.
After first hand observing the incredible rise through the junior ranks such as karting and F3, through to the domination of F1 currently seen, Wolff expressed regret for not securing Verstappen’s signature before he joined Toro Rosso. Mercedes did not have a junior team at that time and thus couldn’t offer him a Formula 1 seat for the 2015 season.
Max Verstappen’s rise from Karting & F3
In his early karting years, Verstappen quickly rose through the ranks, consistently demonstrating his natural aptitude for the sport. He claimed victory after victory in various national and international karting championships.
A standout moment in Verstappen’s karting career came in 2012 when he triumphed in the prestigious KZ World Championship, becoming the youngest-ever winner of the event at just 15 years old. This remarkable achievement catapulted him into the global spotlight and solidified his status as a rising star in motorsport.
Verstappen’s success in karting was not limited to individual races. He also excelled in championship campaigns, clinching titles such as the WSK Euro Series and the CIK-FIA European KF Championship. These accomplishments demonstrated his consistency, adaptability, and ability to perform under pressure.
In his debut season in the European Formula 3 Championship in 2014, the Dutchman finished the season in third place overall, a remarkable achievement for a rookie driver. The following year, Verstappen continued to impress, now driving for the Van Amersfoort Racing team. He captured the attention of the racing world by winning the Masters of Formula 3 race at Zandvoort. Verstappen’s success in Formula 3 culminated in the prestigious FIA European Formula 3 Championship, where he clinched the title in 2014.
Wolff explains why no to Verstappen
In an interview with ESPN, Wolff recalled his meetings with Verstappen and his father Jos in those early days.
“I spoke to Jos and Huub Rothengatter [Jos Verstappen’s manager during his F1 career] when they came to my office in Brackley. This must have been when Max was still in karting or at the end of his karting days, just before Formula 3,” said Wolff.
“We also had another conversation when Max and Jos visited me at my house in Vienna. We spent a few hours discussing his future.”
Rosberg and Hamilton kept Verstappen out of Mercedes
During that period, Mercedes had two drivers, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, whom Wolff was extremely pleased with. When Rosberg left the team at the end of 2016, Valtteri Bottas became the viable option, and Verstappen wasn’t available.
Wolff also noted that the potential pairing of Verstappen and Hamilton might not have been ideal for Mercedes.
“Would Max and Lewis have worked together? Perhaps not. Lewis has always had a strong connection with Mercedes, so I didn’t have to ponder that difficult question. Everything happens for a reason,” he explained.
Considering the circumstances, Wolff acknowledged that Verstappen’s move to Toro Rosso was the logical choice.
“We had two drivers in the seats and no agreement with a junior team. So it was clear that joining Toro Rosso was the path they had to take, and they performed well,” said Wolff.
Wolff & Verstappen keep in touch
Regarding his contact with the Verstappen family after Max joined Red Bull, Wolff clarified, “We maintained a friendly relationship afterward, but we never discussed driving.”
Verstappen eventually signed with Red Bull, made his debut with its junior team Toro Rosso in 2015, and was promoted to the senior Red Bull Racing team at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix. He is currently under contract with Red Bull until the 2028 season and has already secured two world titles with the team.