Honda’s bombshell announcement that the engine supplier will leave Formula 1 after 2021 has blown the driver market wide open. The outcome? Perhaps the most talented driver lineup in history.
Unless the team can miraculously tempt a new marque into the market, Red Bull are left with three options beyond 2021: Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault.
Immediately, we can strike Mercedes off of that list as there is no chance the champions would even consider offering their services to their nearest rivals. Secondly, Ferrari have found themselves in a slump. With engine regulations keeping stable over the next few seasons, a lot of work is going to have to be done back in Fiorano to even become an option.
All this means that it almost seems like a Renault reunion is the way forward by default. No matter how messy the divorce was previously, Cyril and Christian will need to learn to love each other begrudgingly again.
Red Bull had run Renault power units in some form between 2007 and 2018 before making the jump to Honda in 2019. Be it the Infiniti badged glory years or the troubled TAG Heuer tenure whose unreliability ultimately brought down the relationship.
Despite the recent blips in form, Honda had really gotten into the groove in F1. Working in partnership with Red Bull and AlphaTauri, they have produced a piece of machinery that can compete for podiums on a regular basis and is capable of winning races. After the failed McLaren experiment, both parties had faith in the process, which has clearly paid off.
As we established yesterday, an exit clause exists in Verstappen’s contract that would allow him to leave Red Bull should the team be unable to source a competitive engine – be it from Honda or any other supplier.
Max Verstappen lives his career in the fast lane. He only has one intention and that is to win races and fight for championships. If he believes he has no chance to do just that in his current situation, he will be the first driver to take matters into their own hands and push for the changes needed. And if that means jumping ship and taking on a new challenge, so be it.
The 23-year-old knows he has the talent to win championships and knows that he is a driver in high demand. He has the ability to make things happen.
There have been rumours of Verstappen teaming up with Lewis Hamilton for years now. The latest developments at the Red Bull camp only add fuel to the fire. If by 2022, Renault have not stepped up their game enough, don’t be surprised if Max forces that move to Mercedes.
In a recent interview, 2009 World Champion Jenson Button said that although Lewis is smashing all the records out there at the moment, he would much rather do it against someone who offered some resistance.
Speaking to Inews, Button said: “I know Lewis, he likes to win, he’s definitely a winner and he’s very skilled but I know he won’t be enjoying winning as much now as he would have done if he had competition from outside.
“If [Charles] Leclerc or [Sebastian] Vettel or Max Verstappen had equipment that could challenge Lewis, I think he would enjoy that a lot more. Or if he had Michael Schumacher and he could beat him – that would mean more to him. It’s a tough one because you take every win that you get but you want the competition to be there to challenge you for that win”.
So what will the outcome be? With Hamilton still yet to put pen to paper for 2021 and uncertain about 2022, this weekend’s news will certainly prick the ears of those at Mercedes. Hamilton has a tendency to be vocal when it comes to the team’s direction. An integral part of the team, his input will mean as much as Toto’s.
With Bottas already under contract for 2021, expect Lewis Hamilton to sign on for the duration of 2022 as well. Then, Verstappen will join the fray.
Any big shakeups will put George Russell’s place in jeopardy. How he has demonstrated his leadership and talent at Williams over the past 18 months will no doubt keep him in the picture. Should he be able to trust the process and Mercedes’ vision, and accept a couple more seasons at Williams, he will find himself alongside another World Champion in the form of Max Verstappen in due course.