Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has questioned the future of the manufacturer’s young driver programme. This is likely because of a lack of racing opportunities in Formula 1.
Drivers like Esteban Ocon, George Russell and Pascal Wehrlein have risen through the junior ranks thanks to Mercedes’ support. Unfortunately, a lack of available seats has dimmed their prospects for the future.
Frustrated by the state of affairs, Wolff admits that Mercedes could simply choose to scrap its junior investment programme altogether.
“[We have] three really talented kids with a lack of opportunities – and this has come to a point now where we need to decide what we do in the future,” said Wolff.
“Funding a junior team is not an option. Putting $80, $90, $100 million every year in a junior team just to give your young drivers a place is not what I would want to do.
“And on the other side, if the drivers are stigmatized as Mercedes drivers, then it seems to be not the best-selling proposition.
“Being a racer at heart, I still feel the best talent needs to be supported and developed, and I hope that we find a solution for these guys.
“If we cannot find a solution for these guys then I would question the junior programme in the future. And then we go back to a pay driver model.
“If you cannot find a place for them in F1 then it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and that would be a shame in terms of the driver level in F1,” he added.
“I will discuss that with the board and the management at the end of the year depending what the outcome is for George, Pascal and Esteban.”
In the past, Wolff has suggested that allowing teams to enter a third car for young drivers could alleviate the problem, a possible – albeit improbable – solution Esteban Ocon would welcome.
“It would be fantastic,” Ocon said at Monza.
“I would be very happy if young drivers like myself, Charles Leclerc and George Russell had those opportunities. But I can’t see it happening so I don’t want to think about it.”
As one of the sport’s most talented young chargers, Ocon is currently the subject of much interest, notably from McLaren, with team boss Zak Brown revealing that he had placed the Frenchman on his shortlist.
“I’m glad to hear Zak Brown said that, because McLaren is a great team with a great history and I have no doubt that sooner or later they will return to the fight,” said Ocon.
“But it’s not up to me to answer. I have a contract with Mercedes and if they decide some option is optimal for my future, that’s what it will be.”