Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff says he regrets not signing Max Verstappen when he had the chance but doubts a driver combination of Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton would have worked.
Before Verstappen was announced as a Red Bull junior driver in August 2014, he and his father, Jos, had met with Wolff about the possibility of joining Mercedes.
At the time, Mercedes' F1 driver line-up included Hamilton and Nico Rosberg and the team was embarking on a period of unprecedented success in the sport.
Unlike Red Bull, however, Mercedes did not have a junior team and therefore could not offer the 16-year-old Verstappen a position in Formula One for the 2015 season.
Verstappen signed with Red Bull, raced for its junior team Toro Rosso in 2015, and was promoted to the senior race team at the Spanish Grand Prix in 2016.
Verstappen has gone on to win two titles with Red Bull, including his narrow victory against Hamilton in the 2021 championship.
Asked in a recent interview with ESPN if he regretted missing out on Verstappen, Wolff said he twice talked to the Verstappens before they signed with Red Bull.
"I spoke to Jos and Huub Rothengatter [Jos Verstappen's manager during his F1 career] when they came to my office in Brackley and that must have been when Max was in karting or the end of his karting days [in 2013] just before Formula 3 [in 2014].
"And then we spoke again when Max and Jos visited me in my house in Vienna. We spent a few hours discussing his future.
"Do I regret missing out on Max? Certainly. But it wasn't an option back in the day.
"We had two drivers that I was extremely happy with, in Nico and Lewis, and when Nico left [at the end of 2016], Valtteri [Bottas] was then the option and Max wasn't even available."
Wolff said Hamilton's presence at Mercedes also meant Verstappen was never a genuine target for the team.
"Would Max and Lewis have functioned? Maybe not.
"And Lewis is a Mercedes guy since forever, so that hard question I never needed to ask myself for the organisation. Everything happens for a reason.
"But I had two drivers in the seats, no deal with a junior team, so it was clear that the option with Toro Rosso was what they needed to do. And they did well."
Asked if he ever tried to approach Verstappen again after he signed for Red Bull, Wolff added: "After that we always had friendly contact but never discussing driving."
Wolff also said that it wasn't entirely clear how good Verstappen was when he was racing in Formula 3, especially after a series of retirements and mixed results early in the season left him third in the final 2014 standings behind champion Esteban Ocon and vice-champion Tom Blomqvist.
"Back in the day I think there wasn't huge hype around Max, because Max and Van Amersfoort weren't winning the championship that year," Wolff said. "Esteban won in a more competitive car.
"So the insiders knew that Max probably was in an inferior package and in his first year, and the insiders knew there was a very good one coming, but it wasn't clear that he was that good at that stage.
"You can only say when someone grows in Formula One and matures that he is a true world champion -- an outstanding one. Before we had Lewis and then Michael Schumacher and before that [Ayrton] Senna.
"Who is the next one? Was it clear that Max would step into these shoes? It wasn't clear back then."