Motor Sports

Wolff knocks back speculation about Verstappen talks

NEW YORK: Mercedes Formula One team boss Toto Wolff has knocked back speculation about a meeting with Max Verstappen's management after this weekend's Miami Grand Prix.

Mercedes are looking for a replacement for seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who is joining Ferrari at the end of the season.

Reports in Germany have suggested Verstappen's father Jos and manager Raymond Vermeulen would meet Mercedes team co-owners Wolff, Ineos boss Jim Ratcliffe and Mercedes Benz CEO Ola Kallenius.

Asked about it at an event in New York on Monday night for team partner WhatsApp, with a race car emoji projected onto the Empire State Building lit up in green, Wolff told Reuters Television: "No, that's one of the rumours.

"People make up meetings, make up what's happening with the drivers but these things should be behind closed doors and everything that's been out there was not really the right thing."

Wolff, who has known Verstappen's father for years, has made no secret that he would like to sign Verstappen as Hamilton's replacement although the Dutch driver has a Red Bull contract until 2028.

Verstappen is cruising towards his fourth successive title with Red Bull, having won four of five races so far this season, despite internal divisions resulting from a female employee's allegations of inappropriate behaviour against team boss Christian Horner.

Horner has been cleared of the allegations, which he denied, and remains in charge but Verstappen senior has said the team risks being torn apart if Horner stayed.

The future of the team's top designer Adrian Newey is also uncertain, with media reports last week that the technical head was seeking to leave Red Bull.

"Adrian Newey is an iconic engineer in Formula One with a great track record and again, also there are so many people talking about what he eventually might do and whether he leaves Red Bull or not," said Wolff.

"I'm just looking at it like a fan and watching that space."

Mercedes are bringing an upgrade package to Miami after a patchy season so far.

Hamilton finished runner-up in the first sprint of the season in Shanghai on April 24 but has otherwise yet to finish higher than seventh. Team mate George Russell has a best of fifth and Mercedes are fourth overall.

"We don't really know what to expect because it's been a tricky season so far. Let's see what the stopwatch says," said Wolff, who attended Monday's event with Hamilton.

Hamilton is due to take the wheel at a Formula One demonstration run on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue on Tuesday.

The Mercedes car also has a 'WhatsApp button' on the steering wheel that drivers can press when they want to talk to their engineers.

"WhatsApp is all about secure and instant communication and the main interaction between the driver and the engineers is via that button... it's such an innovative idea that all of us came up with and we're very proud," said Wolff. -- Reuters

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