Sports

Mercedes not eyeing Red Bull's Max Verstappen, says Toto Wolff

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff ruled out making a move for Max Verstappen or George Russell and said Lewis Hamilton's 2020 teammate would be either Valtteri Bottas or Esteban Ocon.

Bottas, who turns 30 later this month, is in his third year with the dominant team and the Finn, winner of two races this year, gets on well with five-time world champion Hamilton.

French reserve Ocon, 22, is a highly rated but less experienced talent who has had to sit on the sidelines this season.

"It's a question between Esteban and Valtteri," Wolff said on Saturday, after Verstappen took his first career pole at the Hungarian Grand Prix, which was won by Hamilton yesterday.

"We've been discussing it for a long time, within the team, and I've been wrestling with myself on what is the right thing for the team and for the drivers.

"In a way, both deserve the seat, Esteban because he has been through tough situations and certainly has 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 developing the team with Lewis."

Wolff said the team, winners of both titles for the past five years, would decide over this month's break.

The Austrian said he "would not sabotage Esteban's career" by blocking him from joining another team and some had expressed an interest in his services.

"I think he must be given the opportunity in Formula One, either with us or another team, and who knows what happens in two, three or four years down the line," he added.

Paddock speculation had suggested Mercedes might move for Verstappen but Wolff, who has always talked of the youngster in glowing terms, said the Dutchman was contracted to Red Bull and he respected that.

Verstappen has won two of the last three races and is seen as a future champion.

British rookie Russell, at Williams but with a Mercedes contract, was last year's Formula Two champion and is also a major talent for the future.

Wolff emphasised, however, that he did not feel the 21-year-old was ready for Mercedes and should learn the ropes at Mercedes-powered Williams.

Meanwhile, Formula One teams have agreed the calendar can expand to a record 22 races next year, but without increasing the number of engines allowed, according to Wolff.

Commercial rights holder Liberty Media had asked the 10 teams, who need to approve any increase beyond the current 21 races, to consider the proposal.

"In a nutshell, we've basically agreed to have a 22nd race," said Wolff.

Next year's calendar could have 22 races with Vietnam and Holland added to the current 21 and Germany looking likely to drop out. - REUTERS

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