JANUARY 20, 2017
Mercedes seat may have destroyed Wehrlein says Wolff
Toto Wolff says the retirement of Nico Rosberg was regarded as an "opportunity" for Mercedes rather than a problem.
The world champion team has signed up long-time Williams driver Valtteri Bottas to replace Rosberg, with boss Wolff insisting he was never downbeat throughout the process.
"Obviously it was a shock," he told the French daily L'Equipe when asked about Rosberg's eleventh hour retirement plans.
"But the departure of Nico will perhaps allow the emergence of a super talent. I prefer to see an opportunity rather than worry."
Some, however, have criticised Mercedes for overlooking its own junior drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon in order to go for the 'safe' option of Bottas.
"Yes, we have Pascal and Esteban in our young driver programme," said Wolff. "But our idea is to develop them, not throw them unprepared into an inappropriate environment."
So he insisted the decision to go with Bottas should not reflect on Wehrlein's talent.
"He is fast and brilliant and he was always considered," Wolff said. "But he is in his development phase. He must be able to make mistakes and learn. And he could not have done that with us.
"Look at Sergio Perez, Heikki Kovalainen or Kevin Magnussen. They arrived too early at McLaren and were not well enough prepared."
Wolff said the same also applies to Esteban Ocon.
"Yes," he said, "especially as he had already signed a contract with Force India. We do not want to destroy careers by moving too fast. I don't want to burn young people we believe in."
Among the most critical of Wolff's caution is Red Bull, who took a punt on 17-year-old Max Verstappen, who turned out to be nothing short of an F1 sensation.
Wolff insisted: "We must not forget that even Max had his development phase. Red Bull prepared him perfectly, first with drives on Friday morning, then doing a season and a half at Toro Rosso.
"And even when he arrived at Red Bull, he did not have to fight for the world title or compete with a driver like Lewis Hamilton. He one won race versus nineteen for us, and was not always at the front.
"And he made mistakes, as in Monaco or Austin, which a young driver must be allowed to do. Because there are no second chances."