Mercedes planning F1 junior programme in off-season

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Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff has confirmed that Mercedes is planning on expanding its junior programme to help young drivers reach Formula 1.

However, the German marque will only begin to work on the project once it has sewn up both F1 world championships in 2014.

Mercedes has a great history of aiding junior drivers, running a programme in the early 1990s that helped Karl Wendlinger, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and – most famously – Michael Schumacher reach Formula 1. Now, Wolff is keen on reviving this to help young racers and nurture the next generation of Mercedes drivers.

“There is a great history in the Mercedes-Benz junior programme, many years with Frentzen, Wendlinger and Schumacher,” he said in Friday’s FIA press conference. “We have a junior programme, we have obviously a good F3 engine and some of the boys we co-finance, we help them in racing the budgets to finance those engines. This is already happening since many years.

“The idea was in further expanding that programme, similar to the one 25 years ago. We’ve started to think about it. We had a look at some of the very good boys but we are not yet ready – and the simple reason is that there is a championship in our way.

“In the next two-and-a-half months we should be concentrating on getting that done – and probably over the winter we’re going to structure a junior programme and I’m very much in favour of doing it.

“But if you’re going to do it, you need to do it properly.”

Since joining the sport in 2005, Red Bull’s junior programme has been a great success. Although it has seen a number of casualties (Scott Speed, Jaime Alguersuari, Vitantonio Liuzzi), this has only come as a result of the great competition.

Most notably, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo have both come up the ladder thanks to Red Bull, and are now two of the best drivers in the sport. Mercedes will be looking to follow in its footsteps with a newly-expanded junior project.

As Wolff noted though, it is important for Mercedes to focus on securing both F1 titles in 2014 before turning its attention to those which it may win in ten years’ time.