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Wolff regrets not signing Verstappen earlier in his career

The Mercedes team boss has admitted that he would have signed Max Verstappen earlier in his career when he had the chance.

Toto Wolff has admitted that he regrets not signing Max Verstappen to Mercedes when he had the chance earlier in the Dutchman's career. Before he was signed to the Red Bull Junior Team in 2014, Wolff met with Jos Verstappen and his manager Huub Rothengatter to discuss the possibility of him joining Mercedes in 2013. "I spoke to Jos and Huub when they came to my office in Brackley and that must have been when Max was in karting or the end of his karting days just before Formula 3 [in 2014]," Wolff told ESPN . "And then we spoke again when Max and Jos visited me in my house in Vienna. We spent a few hours discussing his future." At the time Mercedes were dominating F1 with both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, but did not have a junior team they could offer Verstappen who was 16 years-old at the time. Moreover, Wolff wanted the Dutchman to progress through the junior single seater ladder as he as only racing in Euro Formula 3. But Red Bull could offer Verstappen a seat at the Toro Rosso team, which led to his race debut at just 17 years old in 2015. Wolff explains that while they had two successful drivers already at Mercedes, their plan for succession was already in place with Valtteri Bottas whom he managed. "Do I regret missing out on Max? Certainly. But it wasn't an option back in the day," explained Wolff. "We had two drivers that I was extremely happy with, in Nico and Lewis, and when Nico left [at the end of 2016], Valtteri [Bottas] was then the option and Max wasn't even available."

Wolff was not convinced on Verstappen's talents early on

Wolff said he was not sure of Verstappen's capability when he was racing in Formula 3, especially after a lot of retirements and mixed results which led to him finishing behind eventual 2014 champion Esteban Ocon. "Back in the day there wasn't huge hype around Max, because Max and Van Amersfoort weren't winning the championship that year," Wolff added. "Esteban won in a more competitive car. So the insiders knew that Max probably was in an inferior package and in his first year, and the insiders knew there was a very good one coming, but it wasn't clear that he was that good at that stage. "You can only say when someone grows in F1 and matures that he is a true world champion - an outstanding one. Before we had Lewis and then Michael Schumacher and before that [Ayrton] Senna. "Who is the next one? Was it clear that Max would step into these shoes? It wasn't clear back then."

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