(GMM) Max Verstappen will be “at the top of the list” if Mercedes needs to replace Lewis Hamilton for 2022, according to Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
With Hamilton and Mercedes only re-committing for less than the next ten months, Horner’s colleague Dr Helmut Marko revealed last week that Verstappen could leave Red Bull at the end of the year thanks to a performance clause.
“I am sure that should Lewis decide to stop, Max will naturally be the driver at the top of the list,” Horner said on Monday.
He said 2022, when all-new chassis regulations come into force, would be the perfect moment for the major teams to shake up their driver lineups for the future.
Horner did, however, play down the significance of Marko’s revelation about the Verstappen performance clause.
“As with all these things, it is not about forcing a driver that doesn’t want to be there,” he said.
“It is more about relationships than contracts, and in my experience you only pull a contract out of the drawer when you have got a problem.
“The relationship with Max is very strong, he believes in the project and what we are doing, he sees the investment that Red Bull is making,” Horner added.
“It will be down to us to deliver a competitive car. That is what he wants and that is what we want, so we are in an identical situation.”
February 15, 2021
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes Mercedes will target Max Verstappen as Lewis Hamilton’s replacement in 2022.
Seven-time world champion Hamilton recently agreed a one-year contract extension, but Mercedes are having to consider life after their star driver, who will be 37 next year.
Verstappen, 23, is seen as the natural heir to Hamilton’s Formula One throne, and although the Dutchman’s current contract with Red Bull expires in 2023, a number of performance-related clauses could trigger his departure at the end of the year.
Horner said: “I am sure should Lewis decide to stop then Max will naturally be the driver at the top of Mercedes’ list. They also have George Russell and other drivers available to them.
“The reality is, that yes of course – as there has always been – an element of performance-related clauses to Max’s contract. But as with all these things, it is not about forcing a driver that doesn’t want to be there.
“It is more about relationships than contracts, and you only pull a contract out of the drawer when you have got a problem in my experience.
“The relationship with Max is very strong, he believes in the project, in what we are doing, and he sees the investment Red Bull is making. I am confident we won’t need to refer to any contractual clauses. It will be down to us to deliver a competitive car.”
Horner added: “We demonstrated at Abu Dhabi that Mercedes are beatable at a track they have been unbeaten at for the past six or seven years. “
‘We just need to be able to do that across the season. We are gathering momentum. Nobody has a crystal ball so we just need to do the best job we can.’