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Formula 1

Verstappen is 'on Mercedes' list' - but it wouldn't make sense

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
8 min read

Mercedes Formula 1 drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell have done little to quell speculation linking Max Verstappen with a surprise move to their current team, following a fall-out between Max’s father Jos and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

Verstappen has a Red Bull contract until 2028 but his future has been pulled into Horner’s ongoing controversy, which took a fresh twist when Jos Verstappen hit out against Horner's leadership following the season opener in Bahrain.

It seems unlikely that Verstappen will depart the team he has won three consecutive championships with but the two leading arguments for why he could are that Red Bull may “explode” because Horner stays in charge (Jos’s words), so it is simply not going to be the best competitive choice long-term, or that the only reason Jos is talking like this is because secretly the Verstappen camp actually wants to leave for another reason (like doubts over the 2026 engine project).

Both prospects have cropped up in the wake of the Bahrain race, with Mercedes linked as a possible shock alternative. And if you heard little more than what the current Mercedes drivers had to say about it on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, you might start to think there is something to it.

Russell said “if any team had a chance to sign Max, they would 100% be taking it”. Hamilton said he is “sure Max is on the list”.

Mercedes coveted Verstappen a decade ago when he was just a teenage Formula 3 prodigy. But could he really make a move to the team he warred so fiercely with in F1 in 2021?


Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, F1

After the opening race in Bahrain, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was asked if he could take advantage of the divisions at Red Bull at the moment to sign Verstappen for 2025.

“I think a driver will always choose the quickest car,” Wolff replied.

“That is fundamentally what it’s all about. Red Bull is the quickest car, so in my opinion that will always be the priority.”

Not a ‘no’, exactly. And Hamilton recently stunned the F1 world (and beyond) by dropping his own driver market bomb of signing for Ferrari for 2025.

As Hamilton said in Jeddah: “My move’s shown that anything’s possible.”

Hamilton, who was asked if he would like to take advantage of the discontent at Red Bull and poach design legend Adrian Newey, and if he could see Verstappen replacing him at Mercedes, has predicted a “really interesting next six months or so” in F1.

“I don't have an extra scoop,” he said. “I know that- I'm sure Max is on the list.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, and Max Verstappen, Red Bull, F1

“But I'm pretty sure he's tied up. And also, I couldn't see why you would leave a car that was that good.”

Seven-time world champion Hamilton had a hard, bitter fight with Verstappen in 2021. It was an acrimonious title battle that went well beyond the two drivers as their respective teams went hammer and tongs the whole year.

Despite that toxic history, though, Hamilton says he is not “surprised” that Verstappen would be linked to the team. At least from Mercedes’ perspective.

For starters he pointed out “it was the sport that let us down” in the 2021 finale that robbed Hamilton of an eighth title and swung it to Verstappen instead: “That wasn't his fault. In his position I would've done the exact same thing.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, F1

“There's no issues there,” Hamilton continued.

“And if you run a team, you want to have the best driver in, you want to have the team that's got a driver that brings in the eyeballs, brings in the sponsorships.

“And he's one of those. I understand it but... it wouldn't make sense, I would say, for him.”


Max Verstappen, Red Bull, F1

Verstappen echoed a similar sentiment when he spoke in Jeddah, insisting he has no reason to leave Red Bull.

Red Bull and Verstappen have dominated F1 for the past two seasons, giving him two more championships after his controversial 2021 triumph over Hamilton, and there is nobody who seriously believes he will not win the championship again this year. That is the extent of Red Bull’s superiority and the level Verstappen is performing at.

Judged exclusively on that, then assuming Verstappen can even get out of his Red Bull contract for 2025 to replace Hamilton, why would he trade what he has now for a backwards step to Mercedes, which has won just one grand prix since the start of 2022?

Asked about seeing out the duration of his long Red Bull deal, Verstappen said: “That has always been the intention, that's why we signed so long to be here.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, F1

“Of course it's about the performance of the car. From 2026 onwards, that's a bit of a question mark with new regulations. But I knew that when I signed my contract.

“I know what they have done for me in my career. So the intention is absolutely to stay with this team because I really enjoy it and I'm also really happy within the team.

“As long we perform, there's no reason to leave.”

His response to Sky F1, when faced with the direct question of whether there was any scenario in which he'd leaves Red Bull as early as 2025, was along similar lines - with, likewise, a degree of open-endedness.

"Things must go really crazy [for that to happen], I guess," Verstappen said, breaking out into a wide, almost mischievous smile.

"But that's not the target for everyone."

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, F1

Excluding the current, obvious awkwardness around Horner’s situation and Jos Verstappen wading in – which Max was clearly at pains to avoid contradicting, or supporting, or refuting, or anything-ing on Wednesday – there is another elephant in the room regarding Red Bull as a long-term prospect for Verstappen.

He more than hints at it above: 2026. Will Red Bull’s own, in-house F1 engine – the first it has ever attempted – be competitive enough? Or will that major engine variable, coupled with new car rules, end this latest Red Bull era (assuming it isn’t brought down by scandal)?

“This is impossible to know,” Verstappen said about whether he could be confident.

“It's a continuous work in progress, and I know that a lot of people are working very hard on the engine.

“It's just trusting that process, once the engine is fully ready, that it's going to be a quick engine.”

Red Bull Powertrains

Mercedes is a more proven entity as a works team, even if its form in the ground-effect era so far has been disappointing. Verstappen didn’t rule out being interested in Mercedes but still returned to a familiar theme.

“No-one would've ever realised or seen that Lewis would move to Ferrari,” he admitted.

“And in my life - and that's not related to F1 or whatever, just general life - you never know what happens or what comes to you, what happens around you, what might influence you.

“So, you can never say 100% that that's how it's going to be. And I approach my life like that.

“But I also don't think about it too much. I'm very relaxed. Very happy at the team, the performance is there.

“There's no reason to leave.”


Max Verstappen, Red Bull, and George Russell, Mercedes, F1

While Verstappen has his own risks and rewards to consider regarding his future, he doesn’t represent a pure, no-brainer upgrade for Mercedes either.

Yes, he is a phenomenal driver. Russell said he is currently the best in F1. Viewed in a vacuum it would be foolish for Mercedes not to consider him if it thought he could be available.

But Hamilton raised a good point when asked how he thinks Verstappen would fit in at Mercedes: “Well, obviously George is an integral part of this team. And he's going to be here for the long haul.

“He’s doing such a great job, and he's going to grow into the leader of the team.

“So it would be interesting to see. I don't know what their relationship is like, but I'm sure they'd work it out.

“It would definitely be a strong line-up, of course, similar to what we have in my next team [Hamilton and Charles Leclerc at Ferrari].”

Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, George Russell, F1

Russell has a huge chance this year to establish himself as Mercedes’ long-term leader and Hamilton’s natural successor.

That would be threatened by bringing in a megastar like Verstappen, who is not only formidable on-track but could be a very destabilising force off it (just look at what his entourage has done to Red Bull in the last few days!).

Russell will not entertain any doubts, of course. “This is my third season now alongside Lewis, the greatest driver of all time, and I feel like I've done a pretty good job alongside him,” he argued.

“So, whoever were to line up alongside me next year or the years to come, I welcome anybody, welcome the challenge.

George Russell, Mercedes, F1

“You always want to go against the best. I believe in myself. I believe I can beat anybody on the grid.”

He did say that “the question is more on the other side”, alluding to what Verstappen wants to do and how things shake out at Red Bull.

That might imply Mercedes’ position is fixed and, given the way Russell phrased it and what Hamilton said, maybe you could read it as ‘Mercedes wants him, it’s just a matter of whether he’s available’.

But it’s not just Russell that sets Mercedes up for the long-term without necessarily needing Verstappen.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli, the team’s Formula 2 prodigy, looks destined for a top F1 seat sooner or later. And Mercedes has designs on an immediate F1 promotion next season if his rookie F2 campaign lives up to expectations.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli, Prema, F2

There could be a spanner in the works there given Antonelli’s Prema team has made an unexpectedly bad start to the season with the new F2 car.

Mercedes is clearly very attuned to that factor. Wolff said in Bahrain Prema was "not at all where they should be" and acknowledged Antonelli can still be compared against his "top driver" team-mate Oliver Bearman (that comparison was a favourable one for Antonelli in Bahrain), but ideally Mercedes would have him fighting at the front, even if the required superlicence points are in theory already there from 2022-23.

But beyond such specifics, the point is clear: in Russell and Antonelli, Mercedes has two very good medium/long-term options on its books already, two drivers who the team believes have the potential to be world champions.

Destabilising that for the sake of an extremely luxury move for Verstappen would not make much sense. And it would be a futile desire anyway if Verstappen is as happy at Red Bull and unperturbed by the recent disturbances as he claims.

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