Red Bull has acknowledged it was especially motivated to lock down the services of its star driver Max Verstappen by concern Mercedes would make the Dutchman its prime target if Lewis Hamilton decided to leave the team for Ferrari.
Hamilton has been linked with a potential move to Ferrari, with the six-time world champion out of contract at the end of 2020 and exchanging compliments with the Italian team through the media after it emerged he had met with Ferrari chairman John Elkann. Ferrari secured Charles Leclerc to a new five-year contract in December, but Hamilton’s availability coincides with the end of Sebastian Vettel’s current deal at Maranello.
With Hamilton’s future still uncertain and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff also linked with a role working for F1 if he were to leave the team, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko admits the potential for change had his team keen to tie Verstappen down to a longer-term deal, after he extended his contract until the end of 2023.
“That was a very important step for us, now we can look to the future with more confidence,” Marko is quoted as saying by Auto Motor und Sport. “To be honest, we had a hard time guessing what was the truth with the story between Ferrari and Hamilton. But it is also clear that Mercedes must act if Hamilton goes to Ferrari in 2021. And Max would have been the number one target.”
Not only was the new deal a hands-off warning to rival teams, Marko says it is also being used to try and convince Honda to stay in F1 beyond the end of 2021.
“Honda received the message positively. Max is very important to the Japanese. They love his aggressive driving style and his open manner … There will be talks with Honda soon. I’m just waiting for an appointment when I have to fly to Japan.
“Max knows what’s going on at Honda, he has already seen the new car and he values the continuity in the team. In the end there was a common desire from him and us.”