Mercedes believes three-car teams would be the best way to ensure young talent does not miss out an opportunity to make it to the very top of Formula One.
Alongside its race drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes has Force India driver Esteban Ocon, former Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein and Formula 2 championship leader George Russell under contract. All three drivers are facing uncertain futures, with Ocon likely to be replaced by Lance Stroll at Force India, Wehrlein returning to DTM this season after two years in F1 without an obvious route back and Russell looking set to win F2 this year but with no guarantee of an F1 drive in 2019.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says the lack of options for all three drivers has made him question whether having a young driver programme in F1 still makes sense.
“As it stands there are three really talented kids with the lack of opportunity,” he said of Ocon, Wehrlein and Russell. “This has come to a point now where we need to decide what we want to do in the future. Funding a junior 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 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 One 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.”
Wolff believes an easy and cost-effective solution would be to allow the top teams to run a third car reserved for young drivers.
“The big teams are not going to take risks with young drivers, and now you can say well that’s boring, and I think it’s boring too. I think we should take risks, we should take 18-year-old or 19-year-old great talents in a top team and give them a chance, but the problem is you could lose a driver championship or constructor championship because they have a learning curve that’s obviously not great. We haven’t done it and Ferrari hasn’t done it in the past. So we need to question that.
“I would have a simple solution. Give us a third car and make it mandatory to put a young driver in there. With maximum two years in that car. The costs wouldn’t be huge, the grid would be packed and we would have fantastic shows of new kids on the block coming up and fighting hard with the Valtteris and Lewises of this world and maybe surprising us. But owning another team just to have a place for your young drivers doesn’t make sense for us.”