Wolff: Multiple Mercedes drivers ‘good problem to have’ – F1

Formula 1

Mercedes believes working out how to give multiple drivers Formula 1 seats next season is a “good problem to have”, according to its motorsport boss Toto Wolff.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas both need new deals beyond the end of this season to stay with the works team, while Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon is waiting in the wings at its Force India customer outfit.

Mercedes reserve driver George Russell has also indicated Mercedes will help him into F1 next season if he performs well in Formula 2 in 2018.

When asked by Autosport about its 2019 headache, Wolff replied: “It is a good problem to have.

“We are very satisfied how Valtteri has been going these days, and [with] Lewis we don’t need to talk about – he is the best of the current drivers in my opinion.

“Then you have these kids growing up, like Ocon and George.

“I am optimistic about the future Mercedes line-up.”

Hamilton and Mercedes have both indicated that extending their relationship, which started in 2013, is a mere formality.

“We haven’t talked for a few days or few weeks because it was so intense getting our act together with the team and all our priority has been concentrated on that,” Wolff said in Azerbaijan.

“But we are very aligned with what we expect from each other in the future and it is just finding time to sit down.”

Mercedes signed Bottas following Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement after he won the 2016 world championship.

Bottas earned a one-year extension for 2018 and strong form since his qualifying crash at the Australian Grand Prix has boosted his prospects of a new deal.

Wolff said: “We are not looking at drivers outside Mercedes at the moment because we have to give support to our guys, that is the priority.

“It is like if you are happy with your wife, you don’t look elsewhere!

“Give us a few more races and then I will have a better view.”

If Mercedes retains Bottas for another season alongside Hamilton, then Ocon is almost certain to extend his stay at Force India to a third year.

Force India is unlikely to shuffle out Sergio Perez, who brings good backing and emphasised his value as one of F1’s top midfield operators with a surprise podium in Azerbaijan last weekend.

If the Force India line-up does not change for 2018, Mercedes will need to look elsewhere to find Russell a seat.

The reigning GP3 champion has identified Force India as his best chance of graduating to F1.

Although Mercedes could go outside its customer teams, that is a less preferable option.

Russell’s fellow 2018 Mercedes reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein raced for Sauber, a Ferrari customer, last year.

He is now back in the DTM after Sauber dropped him for Charles Leclerc thanks to the Swiss team’s growing links to Ferrari.

Mercedes said it would leave the door “open” for a Wehrlein F1 return, which would add another complication if pursued for 2019.

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