Max Verstappen’s extended Formula 1 deal acts as a ringing endorsement for the Red Bull-Honda partnership, underlying his belief in the project.

The Dutchman put pen to paper on a fresh multi-year deal that commits him to Red Bull until the end of the 2023 season, which acts as the second big piece of off-season news. It comes just two weeks after Ferrari announced a new extension for Charles Leclerc, whose own contract does not expire until 2024. 

Verstappen, who was nurtured through the Red Bull young driver programme before being handed his big breakthrough with the team in 2016, has repaid the faith shown in him from an early age with the fresh deal. 

"Red Bull believed in me and gave me the opportunity to start in Formula 1 which I have always been very grateful for,” Verstappen said of his new contract. 

“Over the years I have grown closer and closer with the team and besides the passion from everyone and the on-track performance it is also really enjoyable to work with such a great group of people.” 

From winning his first race with the team at Barcelona, Verstappen has continually delivered for Red Bull year-on-year, racking up a further seven grand prix victories since his sensational debut. 

There had been suggestions Verstappen was considering his future beyond 2020 amid growing frustrations over Red Bull’s failure to fight for world championships throughout 2017 and 2018, though a new tie-up with Honda heading into 2019 left the squad optimistic of a change of fortunes. 

Impressive engine development led to instant success, with Verstappen following up Honda’s first podium in over a decade in Melbourne by landing its first victory since 2006 in Austria. The 22-year-old added two more wins in Mexico and Brazil, while also finally ending his wait for a maiden pole position which came in Hungary. He went on to bag another one at Interlagos before the year was out. 

Honda has come a long way since the unreliability and poor performance that dogged its F1 return with McLaren during the early days of the V6 hybrid era and is now showing signs of becoming a force to be reckoned with. 

Red Bull ended the 2019 season with a package that was arguably on a par with, if not stronger, than its chief rivals Mercedes and Ferrari, highlighted by the continued gains made by Honda. Verstappen subsequently claimed third place in the championship - marking his best-ever finish - behind only the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas

In Verstappen, Red Bull already boasts a key weapon in being able to take the fight to Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. It now needs to overcome its traditional slow starts if it is to mount and go on to sustain a genuine title bid.

The Red Bull camp is convinced it can avoid a sluggish opening to 2020, with team motorsport advisor Helmut Marko claiming the Milton Keynes squad’s RB16 challenger will be ready earlier than ever before, while making further positive noises about the power unit progress continuing to be made by Honda. 

And it appears the confidence in the Red Bull-Honda collaboration has trickled down to Verstappen, becoming a leading factor behind his decision. 

“Honda coming onboard and the progress we have made over the last 12 months gives me even more motivation and the belief that we can win together,” he explained. 

“I respect the way Red Bull and Honda work together and from all sides everyone is doing what they can to succeed. I want to win with Red Bull and our goal is of course to fight for a world championship together.”

Towards the end of last year, Honda announced an extended deal to continue supplying Red Bull and its sister squad Alpha Tauri (formerly Toro Rosso) until the end of the 2021 season, though it provided no indication about its long-term involvement in F1. 

The length of Verstappen’s new contract - which goes beyond entering the championship’s next wave of sporting, technical and financial regulations in 2021 - suggests Red Bull and Honda have already engaged in talks about a continued partnership and that the Japanese manufacturer is indeed in F1 for the long haul. 

At the Abu Dhabi season finale, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner explained that greater clarity from F1’s bosses on plans for future engine development was behind Honda’s shorter deal. Horner believes the continuity Verstappen’s new contract provides is key for his team heading into a new era of regulations. 

“With the challenge of the 2021 regulation changes on the horizon continuity in as many areas as possible is key,” Horner said. 

“Max has proven what an asset he is to the team, he truly believes in the partnership we have forged with our engine supplier Honda, and we are delighted to have extended our relationship with him.” 

Verstappen’s commitment to Red Bull also effectively ends any hope of a dramatic driver market for 2021. What was tipped to be a potentially crazy year of seat swaps could now peter out into a rather sedate affair, with more dominoes likely to quickly fall into place following Tuesday’s latest news.  

While it can be assumed there will be some form of performance-related clauses in Verstappen’s contract, his deal - announced on Hamilton’s 35th birthday - all but rules him out of him replacing the six-time world champion at Mercedes, in the short term at least. 

With Hamilton expected to remain at Mercedes beyond the end of this season, and with Verstappen now tied down to Red Bull, it leaves Sebastian Vettel as the new key player in the driver market. 

Should the German leave Ferrari (or be forced out) upon the expiry of his contract at the end of the year, a seat at the Scuderia alongside Leclerc would open up and become hotly contested. 

The likes of current Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo - who has been linked to Ferrari in the past - or Valtteri Bottas (should Mercedes decide to look elsewhere) could emerge as contenders, though Ferrari will be wary of the impact such an arrival could have on Leclerc, who it clearly views as the future at Maranello. 

Either way, Verstappen has kicked off the looming chain reaction of deals. 

Verstappen has long been tipped for greatness and shown he has the star quality and raw speed to compete for world championships. If the Red Bull-Honda package can deliver as hoped, 2020 could be the year he pushes Hamilton all the way. 

 

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