Max Verstappen and his minders have put it out there that the young Dutch sensation is a free agent after 2020 and for the next chapter of the 21-year-old’s remarkable career they are seeking a title-winning package.
This would mean he stays with Red Bull should Honda get their sums right, or the option of Mercedes and Ferrari who are the only other likely championship challengers.
For now, Mattia Binotto has all but closed the door on Verstappen joining Charles Leclerc at Maranello – the Ferrari F1 boss’ template for success is based on the golden era of Michael Schumacher, two decades ago when there was only space in the garage for one alpha driver with a wingman teammate.
The pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas has proven to be highly effective with each driver’s roles clearly defined by the fact that the Briton is on average three-tenths faster than the Finn. Harmony prevails because of this.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff is a fan of young Verstappen and revealed that his arrival on the scene was too early and they could not compete with what Red Bull offered the youngster in 2014 – at the time he was only 16and gave him his record-breaking Grand Prix debut with Toro Rosso when he was 17 years and 166 days.
“At Red Bull, Max was given the time to develop. At Toro Rosso and also at Red Bull, he was allowed to make mistakes – such as last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with Daniel Ricciardo.
“Most top drivers experience such a learning curve, but his step-up from last year to now is very impressive, even though some of his front wings get damaged along the way.”
Asked if he felt that not securing Verstappen’s services, Wolff replied, “No, everything happens for a reason. Red Bull gave the boy time to develop. At the time, we had no facilities, no structure for juniors. The focus at Mercedes was to win races and championships win as a team, all things that were very new to us.”
It is no secret that Jos Verstappen and Wolff have been in contact on more than one occasion in what appears to be an open relationship between the two parties.
And Wolff does not deny the interest, “Of course, you know we all want ‘the next Max’ but I can tell you that there are already a few coming through our [Mercedes junior] training program.
“But the one and only Max Verstappen arrived in F1 too soon for us, we were not ready” concluded the Mercedes boss.
With Ferrari apparently out of the equation, Verstappen might have to settle for a Red Bull extension as the alternative – a move to Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton – would also be an explosive combination which, as things stand, is highly unlikely.