LONDON: Max Verstappen will be the top target for Mercedes once seven-times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton decides to retire, according to Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
Asked on Monday whether he expected the champions to be “sniffing around” for his 23-year-old Dutch driver as a possible replacement for the Briton, Horner had no doubt they would be interested.
“I’m sure that should Lewis decide to stop, then Max will naturally be the driver at the top of the list. But they also have George Russell, they’ve also got other drivers available to them,” he told reporters.
Horner said ultimately it would come down to relationships and producing a winning car, with new rules and a fresh start for all in 2022. Mercedes will again start this year as favourites.
“Of course, as there has always been, there is an element of performance related to Max’s contract,” said the team boss, who described the relationship with Verstappen — winner of two races last year — as very strong.
“I’m confident that we won’t need to refer to any contractual clauses. It will ultimately be down to us to deliver a competitive car, that’s what he wants and that’s what we want.”
Red Bull announced on Monday that they will take on departing Honda’s technology and run their own engines from 2022.
Horner said Verstappen believed in the project and could see the investment Red Bull were making.
Hamilton has signed only a one-year extension to his contract with Mercedes, triggering speculation that the 36-year-old may walk away at the end of a year that could bring him a record eighth title.
Verstappen is under contract at Red Bull until 2023 but much will depend on the team’s performance meeting his expectations.
The youngster finished third overall last year, best of the rest after Hamilton and Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas, and has won 10 of his 119 races to date.
Britain’s Russell, the 2018 Formula Two champion, races for Williams but has a long-term Mercedes contract and stood in for Hamilton in Bahrain last year when his compatriot tested positive for COVID-19.