The Small Print That Allows Verstappen To Join Mercedes
Analysing Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas’ contract and Verstappen’s performance clause
Since the start of the F1 season, everyone has been asking the same question - could Max Verstappen move to Mercedes?
At first glance, the answer seems to be no.
However, the plausibility of Verstappen moving to Mercedes suddenly becomes more likely when you consider that a certain 'performance clause' has cropped up in Verstappen’s Red Bull deal and the fact that Mercedes have two empty cockpits at the end of 2021.
Verstappen arrived at Red Bull partway through the 2016 season, when he was promoted from Torro Rosso.
He would later become the youngest winner in F1 history when he won the Spanish Grand Prix as an 18-year-old in 2016.
Since Verstappen has become Red Bull's poster boy and it's been no secret that he is the number one driver for the team.
Red Bull has also invested heavily in Verstappen, attempting to make him into a world champion.
It appears that Verstappen is pretty happy with Red Bull and at the start of 2020, the Dutchman signed a long-term agreement with the team, committing himself for the following four seasons.
However, earlier this year, it was revealed that Verstappen's contract has a 'performance clause' that allows him to leave the team under certain conditions.
Reports suggest Verstappen would be free to look for another constructor if Red Bull failed to deliver a car that had a chance of winning the World Championship.
According to F1 Insider, the contract is quoted as saying the team have to provide him with a car “this season with which he can become World Champion by his own means”.
Red Bull advisor and head of their driver development programme, Dr Helmut Marko said: "Yes, there is a performance clause. I don’t want to go into details, but it more or less says that Max can compete for race wins and the World Championship on his own merits. If he can do that, his contract is extended. If not, he would be free.”
F1 Insider claims the RB16B must be capable of getting within around 0.3 seconds per lap of the fastest car - a tough ask considering the dominance of Mercedes over the past seven years.
But what would happen if Red Bull fails the performance clause?
Will we see George Russell and Max Verstappen lineup for Mercedes?
Well, Verstappen would be free to move onto a different team, and the only constructor challenging for World Championships is Mercedes.
This is where the short-term facet of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton's contracts come into play.
Last year, Mercedes' statement announcing Bottas' new deal said he would drive for the team "at least until the end of 2021".
Similarly, Hamilton says he only signed a one-year deal at Mercedes for 2021 because there was "no real need" to plan for the future.
This means at the end of the year, team principal Toto Wolff will have two empty Mercedes cockpits.
Hamilton has hinted his desire to retire from the sport and Bottas' performance struggles have been widely noted.
One of the seats would likely go to George Russell, a Mercedes protege whose deal with Williams is due to expire at the end of the season.
However, the other seat could very likely be Verstappens'.
Red Bull's team principal Christian Horner believes that Verstappen would be “at the top” of Mercedes’ wish list.
He said: “I’m sure that should Lewis decide to stop, then Max will naturally be the driver at the top of the list."
Meanwhile, McLaren Racing's CEO Zak Brown said it was 'the obvious conclusion' that Verstappen and Russell would lineup for the Silver Arrows next year.
That being said, Horner has rubbished claims Verstappen will be moving so soon.
He said: "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.
“And I'm confident that we won't need to refer to any contractual clauses."
Do you think Verstappen could move to Mercedes next year or will Red Bull's better form convince him to stick with the team? Let me know what you think in the comments below.