Horner: Verstappen-Red Bull deal a real statement of intent

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 12: Race winner and 2021 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing celebrates with his team after the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on December 12, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Red Bull consider Max Verstappen the best driver in Formula 1, thus wanted to ensure they have the reigning World Champion tied down to a long-term deal and, by doing so, have signalled their intent for the future.

The extra-ordinary five-year contract extension, which could earn 24-year-old Verstappen as much as $50-million-a-season, quarter-billion-dollar by the end of its run, and is arguably the most lucrative in F1 history.

It means the 2021 F1 World Champion will remain at Red Bull until the end of 2028, when he will be thirty.

The Dutch ace’s current contract, worth around $25-million-a-year, was due to expire at the end of next season. But the Dutchman, 24, has been rewarded for beating seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton to the title.

Verstappen’s salary hike matches the 37-year-old Hamilton’s £80m two-year Mercedes deal.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 02: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Scuderia Toro Rosso attends a seat fitting ahead of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 2, 2014 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Max Verstappen horner best

Horner: With new engine regulations for 2026 we wanted the best driver on the grid, Max

“To have Max signed with Red Bull through to the end of 2028 is a real statement of intent,” said team principal Christian Horner.

“Our immediate focus is on retaining Max’s world championship title, but this deal also shows he is a part of the team’s long-term planning.

“Max was the outstanding driver of last year. He was the world champion and mentally it takes that pressure off. He has that first tick in the box, but I don’t think anything will change in the way he goes racing.

“He will give 110 per cent, and with new engine regulations for 2026 we wanted to make sure we had the best driver on the grid secured for that car,” added Horner.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has long been an admirer of Verstappen, with Horner claiming the Dutchman would be his rival’s number one target when Hamilton retires.

But relations between the two parties became strained during last year’s toxic title battle.

For his part, Verstappen, who made his F1 debut in 2015 when he was 17 before becoming the sport’s youngest winner on his Red Bull debut a year later, has always said he will remain with the Milton Keynes team if they delivered a machine capable of fighting for world titles.

Verstappen sim racing

Verstappen: I love this team and last year was simply incredible

His new deal will take him into a 13th season with Red Bull and beyond his 30th birthday.

“I really enjoy being part of the Red Bull Racing team, so choosing to stay to the 2028 season was an easy decision,” said Verstappen, who will begin his championship defence in 17 days at the opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

“I love this team and last year was simply incredible. Our goal since we came together in 2016 was to win the championship and we have done that, so now it’s about keeping the number one on the car long-term.

“After winning the championship my ambition is to still win races and to fight for the championship again.”

Verstappen’s entrance as a teenager into the sport raised eyebrows with some feeling he was too young to be on the grid. Indeed, the sport’s rulers moved to introduce a minimum age limit of 18.

But Verstappen, the son of Jos Verstappen who raced alongside seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher in the 1990s, has proved to be among the grid’s finest talents of recent times with 20 wins already to his name.

His championship battle with Hamilton, controversially decided at last December’s concluding round in Abu Dhabi, will go down as one of the best in the sport’s history. (Report by AP; additional reporting PA Media)