Toto Wolff remains proud of the Mercedes-Benz Junior Programme despite the likelihood that Pascal Wehrlein looks set to sit out the 2018 Formula 1 season after losing his ride with the Sauber F1 Team.
Esteban Ocon impressed in his first full season with the Sahara Force India F1 Team, scoring points in all bar two races and finishing eighth in the Drivers’ Championship standings, while George Russell clinched the 2017 GP3 Series title and had two impressive free practice outings with Force India in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
Wehrlein scored all five of Sauber’s points in 2017 but Charles Leclerc will partner Marcus Ericsson in 2018, leaving the German on the sidelines, but Wolff insists the programme to identify the next top talent and the next Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team star is still effective.
“Our target is to identify the next Lewis Hamilton and that is not an easy task because he’s just on an incredible level,” said Wolff to Autosport. “The decision that we have taken is that we want very fast and experienced drivers in the car.
“Mercedes is not the place where you learn, you need to be pretty complete when you join us. So far I am happy with the programme, how it is going and who knows maybe in two or three years we will have the next junior driver in a Mercedes who has made his way up from Formula 4, Formula Renault like George or Esteban did.
“Esteban has a seat in Force India and is somebody that is a hot asset in F1 as many teams have expressed interest. George is just at the beginning of his F1 journey, he has achieved our joint goal, which is to win the GP3 championship.
“Now let’s see how he goes in Formula 2 next year. His testing [with Force India] was very good but it is very early as he needs to earn the right to be in a Formula 1 car and this is when the serious business starts.”