Max Verstappen's new deal: Why he's re-signed and what does it tell us about F1

Analysing Max Verstappen's contract extension, what it tells us about Red Bull and their future, and that of Daniel Ricciardo...

3y ago

So how long is the extension for?

Verstappen's previous deal with Red Bull was due to expire at the end of 2019 so at face value his new contract only amounts to a one-year extension. But plenty in the paddock believe Verstappen's previous agreement with Red Bull contained an opt-out clause which may have allowed him to leave the team at the end of next season if they failed to meet certain performance targets.

Given that Daniel Ricciardo's deal with the team expires at the end of 2018, the nightmare scenario of Red Bull losing both halves of a line-up considered to be the strongest in F1 makes their money-no-object determination to retain Verstappen entirely understandable, both from a sporting and commercial perspective.

That extra one year is priceless for Red Bull.

Why has Verstappen re-signed?

Less than 24 hours before Red Bull's entirely-unforeseen announcement was made public, Verstappen spoke to Sky Sports F1 about his future and, with clear reference to the uncertainty about Red Bull's engine future, remarked:

"We are on the way back... But we are not fully in control of how competitive we can be. l hope for the future that can be solved and also then I don't think there is any reason to leave."

It was an intriguing, attention-grabbing admission at the time but doubly so after his contract extension - signed, of course, long before the interview - was confirmed.

Verstappen has seen enough in Red Bull's recent revival, and enough in their blueprints for the future, to believe he can fulfil his ambition of becoming the sport's youngest-ever world champion with Red Bull.

"What Max has seen this year is the strength in depth in the team, its ability to develop and ability to dig itself out of an issue where we started the year. It's been a character-building year for him but he feels very comfortable in the environment and he's enjoying racing within the team," said team boss Christian Horner.

"He sees the commitment that is there for the future."

What Verstappen might have also seen is that time is on his side and Red Bull are willing to build their immediate future around him - in much the way that Ferrari have become Vettel's fiefdom and Hamilton dominates Mercedes.

"I suspect now Verstappen has a preferential position - I'd be amazed if his managers didn't nail down some sort of No 1 status," said Sky F1's Martin Brundle.

"Max has got so much on his side with his age that he can do this Red Bull deal and still have a long Mercedes or Ferrari career in the next phase of F1 from 2021 onwards.

"The more I think about it, the more it makes sense that he's settled down at Red Bull."

Did Mercedes and Ferrari want to sign Verstappen?

Rumours have swirled throughout the summer that F1's two superpowers had their chequebooks ready for a Verstappen bidding war. The fact Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen were only handed single-year deals was considered conclusive proof Mercedes and Ferrari were keeping their options just in case Verstappen became available.

"Every team would be trying to sign Max Verstappen, because of his age, speed and the upside potential," noted Brundle.

But Vettel's decision to sign an unexpectedly-long extension - running to the end of 2020 - presented a significant obstacle to the notion of Verstappen moving to Ferrari in the immediate future. Ferrari are, in the words of their former president Luca di Montezemolo, traditionally reluctant to put "two roosters in the same hen house". Verstappen and Vettel already have history for clashing on and off the track.

It also shouldn't pass unnoticed that Vettel and Verstappen's new deals expire at the same time.

Mercedes were, on balance, the more likely option for Verstappen. But even here there were serious problems to consider. Firstly, why disrupt a winning team - especially when Hamilton has already indicated he intends to follow Vettel in signing a new deal? Secondly, signing Verstappen would shut the door on the crop of youngsters Mercedes are intent on mentoring to the top of F1. And thirdly, if Mercedes were to sign a Red Bull driver, his personality and far-friendlier relations with Hamilton made Ricciardo the far likelier option.

What now for Ricciardo?

While Verstappen has been tied down, questions remain about the future of the Red Bull star, who is still set to be up for grabs in the 2019 driver market. So is this surprise extension a sign Ricciardo is set to depart?

"For me, it tells us that they know Ricciardo is off," remarked Brundle, with the Australian racer himself admitting he's looking forward to negotiating as a free agent for the first time next year.

Red Bull, publicly at least, insist they are eager to keep their five-time race winner.

"We've spoken with Daniel," said Horner. "It's very clear we want to do exactly the same with him. There was a window of discussion that took place with Max and obviously our objective is to retain the two drivers and hopefully we will be able to achieve that until 2020."

However, Horner's comments both before the renewal and within the contract announcement itself have remained consistent when it comes to Verstappen's standing: "He is in the best place in the sport to build a team around him."

Just how will Ricciardo feel reading or hearing that? He's hardly set a foot wrong in his four years with the senior team, and he's not exactly the type to play second fiddle.

"Max is 10 years younger than me," the 28-year-old told Sky Sports News. "I wouldn't say we're at different points in our career but, naturally because of his age, perhaps he's in a different situation."

Indeed, Ricciardo is already older than Vettel was when he left Red Bull for Ferrari - and he could yet follow a similar path.

"It tells me Ricciardo will be in a Mercedes in 2019," concluded Brundle.

What does Verstappen's extension tell us about Red Bull's engine future?

Reading between the lines, a great deal - potentially. The Red Bull hierarchy have been at pains to stress that Verstappen's priority in negotiations was understanding the team's engine plans rather than the size of his new salary.

"We discussed everything with Max," confirmed team advisor Helmut Marko. "He knows what our plans are, he knows what are alternatives are, and this convinced him to extend the contract."

"Money was a secondary focus, the primary focus was competitiveness and how we can get ourselves into a competitive position," added Horner.

Renault are thought to have told Red Bull they will end their supply in 14 months' time, leaving Honda - just dumped by McLaren - as Red Bull's likeliest providers in 2019 now they are teaming up with Toro Rosso. But that forecast doesn't tally with Verstappen re-signing.

Remember what he said on Thursday night:

"We are on the way back... But we are not fully in control of how competitive we can be. l hope for the future that can be solved and also then I don't think there is any reason to leave."

So what was Max told that proved so compelling and so enticing? Leaving aside the doubts whether Ferrari and Mercedes would have wanted him in 2019 or 2020, it must have been something very significant for the 20-year-old to re-commit. Porsche?

And what does it tell us about Red Bull?

Simple: that rumours of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.

The future has wings...

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Comments (1)

  • Ricciardo to Mercedes for 2019 would make great sense, for both parties. Be great to see Lewis and Danny in the same team.

      3 years ago