Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has cast doubt over the future of the company's junior driver programme in Formula 1. Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Renault, McLaren and Honda all have young driver programme in which they help and guide young talent to F1.
Mercedes currently has three drivers signed to its programme, Pascal Wehrlein, Esteban Ocon and George Russell. Wehrlein competed in F1 in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, but had to return to DTM this year after no seat became available in F1.
Ocon joined the grid in 2016 with Manor before switching to Force India for 2017 and 2018, but his immediate future in the sport is in major doubt as Lance Stroll is set to join the team in his place before the end of the season.
Russell is currently competing in the FIA Formula 2 Championship, topping the standings ahead of Lando Norris, a McLaren junior. Norris was announced as a full-time McLaren driver for the 2019 season this week, as McLaren once again promotes from within.
But with limited seats available for next season, Wolff admits that Mercedes could cease its young driver programme going forward: “There’s quite some interest behind George, but as it stands [we have] three really talented kids with the lack of opportunity,” said Wolff.
"This has come to a point now where we need to decide what we want to do in the future. Funding a junior [Formula 1] team is not an option because putting 80-90-100 million every year in a junior team just to keep your young drivers in place is not what I would want to do.
“And on the other side if the drivers are stigmatised as Mercedes drivers it seems to be not the best selling proposition. Being a racer at heart I still feel that the best talent needs to be supported and developed and I hope we find solution for these guys.
“If we can’t find a solution for these guys I would question the junior programme in the future, and then we go back to a pay driver model. Today [we have] Red Bull, who have invented the programme and have been successful in the past, and being the main ones at the moment pushing forward.
"Ferrari have a junior programme and we have a junior programme and Renault have a junior programme, but if you can’t find a place for them in Formula 1 it doesn’t make a lot of sense and that would be a shame in terms of the driver level in F1. And I will discuss that with the board and with the management at the end of the year depending what the outcome is for George, Pascal and Esteban.”