Max Verstappen Still Top Of Mercedes 2025 Driver Shortlist

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 29: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing and Second placed Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes celebrate on the podium after the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 29, 2023 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202310300008 // Usage for editorial use only //
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 29: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing and Second placed Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes celebrate on the podium after the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 29, 2023 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202310300008 // Usage for editorial use only //

Three leading contenders have emerged as the favourites to take over Lewis Hamilton‘s seat at Mercedes for the 2025 season.

Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes’ F1 team, seems to have his sights set on Formula 1’s reigning champion, Max Verstappen, particularly given the current tensions and leadership disputes occurring at Red Bull.

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the strife at Red Bull could lead to more than just the departure of their three-time world champion; it might also result in the exit of key figures like Adrian Newey, Pierre Wache, and other highly rated engineers.

“One would be David Morgan, Red Bull’s aerodynamic development manager,” the Italian newspaper reports, claiming the engineers have been targeted by Ferrari. “Ben Waterhouse, on the other hand, oversees the entire dynamics of the car.

“Last, but not least, an Italian engineer could be among those eligible for a transfer to Maranello – Alessandro Germani – team leader of aerodynamic development.”

Auto Motor und Sport, meanwhile, claims that Newey is increasingly unhappy about the Christian Horner scandal – as well as his boss’s apparent plans to move him over to a hypercar project “for budget cap reasons”.

On the driver front, however, Wolff says he would do “handstands” if it convinced Verstappen to make the switch – although Horner doubts the Dutchman could be wooed by Mercedes.

“I’m sure all the teams want Max, but Toto also says that the best drivers want the best cars,” Horner said.

However, the unrest at Red Bull is far from over.

“I don’t think Horner will survive it,” said former F1 driver Ralf Schumacher. “He hasn’t been able to clarify things. He only talks about it at the legal level, but it can’t be in Horner’s spirit that such a successful team will fall apart because of one person,” the German told formel1.de.

As for the prospect of losing Verstappen, Schumacher added: “I think he could go through with it, but not this season. Next year.”

After Verstappen, Mercedes’ top pick might be the 17-year-old Wolff protege Kimi Antonelli – if he proves he is ready for the leap to F1 next year.

Fernando Alonso might then be next in line, as he holds off on talks with Aston Martin about 2025 for now while his manager Flavio Briatore chats with Wolff. Just as the Hamilton-to-Ferrari news broke in February, Briatore posted a photo of himself sitting down in a Monaco cafe with Wolff.

Wolff was drinking from a very distinctive mug – and now, post-Jeddah, Alonso has posted a photo of himself sitting and grinning in the very same cafe with exactly the same design of cup.

Finally, just as the unwell Carlos Sainz walked slowly back into the Jeddah paddock last Saturday, his managers Carlos Onoro Sainz and Carlos Sainz snr were spotted walking out of the Mercedes hospitality area with Wolff.

A bigger question, of course, is just how attractive the 2025 Mercedes seat really is, with even Wolff admitting that the new car is “very weak” in high speed corners.

Even Ferrari chairman John Elkann hinted in Saudi Arabia that the Italian team may need to wait until 2026 to really challenge Red Bull, because one “cycle” of regulations will close “and another will open”.

The implication, given Verstappen’s utter dominance, is that the 2022-2025 rules cycle – designed specifically for closer racing – has proved a failure. Aston Martin boss Mike Krack says one “fact” of that era is that the sport now has a Red Bull “dominance that none of us want”.

“I don’t think the regulations have failed,” Williams boss James Vowles insists. “I think even on the data that we can see now, it’s still better than the ’21, ’20 generations of cars.

“Whether it will improve in ’25? No, I don’t think so. And in ’26, the rules are still being ratified as we speak, so it’s hard to evaluate that.”

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