Mercedes Team Principal, Toto Wolff recently disclosed that he had encountered Verstappen and his father during the early stages of the Dutch prodigy’s racing career.
However, due to the absence of an available Formula 1 seat and Verstappen’s yet-undiscovered status as the global superstar he is today, Wolff made the decision not to pursue the future Red Bull driver.
Helmut Marko, however, is astounded by Toto Wolff’s inability to recognize the exceptional talent of Max Verstappen during his formative years.
As fate would have it, Mercedes’s loss turned out to be Red Bull’s triumph, as they swiftly swooped in and secured the services of the young Dutch sensation for their Toro Rosso team, subsequently paving the way for his triumphant ascent to Red Bull.
The decision made back then has proven to be immensely rewarding, as Verstappen has not only restored Red Bull’s glory with their first championship since 2013 but is also en route to securing an impressive third consecutive title.
In light of this success, Marko couldn’t resist a moment of self-satisfaction, subtly implying that, unlike Wolff, he possessed the foresight to recognize Verstappen’s extraordinary potential from a tender age.
”His talent would not have been visible enough in Formula 3 but then I don’t know what exactly Toto has been looking at,” Marko said, as per the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad.
“Because when I saw Max busy for a while at the Norisring, it was already completely clear to me that he had something special.”
Wolff openly acknowledged his regret for overlooking Verstappen’s talent, admitting that it was a missed opportunity. However, he explained that back in those days, pursuing Verstappen simply “wasn’t an option.”
Mercedes’ team principal expressed a sense of retrospection, recognizing the tremendous potential that Verstappen possessed.
Nonetheless, he clarified that circumstances at the time prevented them from exploring the possibility of acquiring the rising star.
“Do I regret missing out on Max? Certainly, but it wasn’t an option back in the day,” said Toto Wolff.
“We had two drivers that I was extremely happy with, in Nico [Rosberg] and Lewis [Hamilton], and when Nico left [at the end of 2016], Valtteri [Bottas] was then the option and Max wasn’t even available.”
Contemplating the hypothetical scenario of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton as teammates, the Austrian acknowledged the potential challenges they may have faced in functioning harmoniously together.
“Would Max and Lewis have functioned? Maybe not,” he remarked. He further reflected on Hamilton’s long-standing affiliation with Mercedes, which eliminated the need to question his loyalty to the team.
“And Lewis is a Mercedes guy since forever, so that hard question I never needed to ask myself for the organisation. Everything happens for a reason.
Wolff concluded: “But I had two drivers in the seats, no deal with a junior team, so it was clear that the option with Toro Rosso was what they needed to do and they did well. After that we always had friendly contact but never discussing driving.”