That is according to Verstappen’s boss himself Christian Horner. Should Lewis Hamilton leave Mercedes at the end of his latest contract, their ideal marquee replacement would be Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner is wary of powerhouse Formula 1 rivals Mercedes making a poaching attempt on Max Verstappen before long.
Questions remain about how long seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton will drive on, having recently only signed a one-year contract extension with his long-time team.
It leaves the door open for a retirement call should Hamilton take a record eighth world championship this year.
Team-mate Valtteri Bottas seemingly remains under constant pressure, having performed solidly if not spectacularly since joining the squad in 2017.
Horner acknowledges star-in-waiting George Russell is an option, having performed superbly when substituting for Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix last December, but believes Verstappen sits atop Mercedes’ post-Hamilton hitlist.
“I’m sure that should Lewis decide to stop then Max would have to naturally be the driver at the top of the list,” Horner told international media.
“But they also have George Russell. They’ve also got other drivers obviously available to them.
“And I think again, as I say, it’s all down to relationships and us forming a competitive car.
“There’s no guarantees for 2022. It’s a complete clean sheet of paper.
“If there’s going to be a significant mix up of the order, one would assume it’s going to be with that big regulation change.”
Horner also confirmed Verstappen’s contract, which covers through to the end of 2023, included performance clauses.
“All drivers have safeguards within performance, and the reality is that as there has always been,” he said.
“There is an element of performance related to Max’s contract. I’m not going to go into what that is.
“It doesn’t relate to the power unit in any way, it’s just a binary performance at a certain measurement in time.
“As with all these things, though, to force a driver that doesn’t want to be there, it’s more about relationships than contracts. You only pull a contract out of a drawer when you’ve got a problem, in my experience.
“The relationship with Max is very strong. He believes in the project, he believes in what we’re doing.
“He sees the investment that Red Bull is making, very much with the recent commitment on the powertrain, he believes in the people within the team, working within the team.
“I’m confident that we won’t need to refer to any contractual clauses. I think that it will ultimately be down to us to deliver a competitive car.
“That’s what he wants, that’s what we want. He needs that, we need that. So in that respect, we’re both in an identical situation.”
Verstappen, 23, has finished third overall in each of the past two Formula 1 seasons.
IF HAMILTON DECIDE TO STOP, VERSTAPPEN SHOULD REPLACE IT AT MERCEDES – HORNER IF HAMILTON DECIDE TO STOP, VERSTAPPEN SHOULD REPLACE IT AT MERCEDES – HORNER
The chassis of the 2022 car has been defined and is already in production – Ferrari boss Binotto
Hamilton and Verstappen deserved equal penalty – Red Bull
F1 2022 – Aston Martin confirms Vettel
knew what was going to happen, just didn’t want to give way – Hamilton about the crash with Max
F1 2021 Italian GP – Hamilton and Max clashed – Verdict
F1 2021 – Ricciardo wins Italian Grand Prix – Max and Hamilton collide
THE NEXT RACE 2021
|Bahrain ||26 Mar|
|14:30 - 15:30||Free practice 1|
|18:00 - 19:00||Free practice 2|
|15:00 - 16:00||Free practice 3|
|18:00 - 19:00||Qualifying|
|18:00 - 20:00||Race|
|Bahrain||57 laps||308.238 km|