Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes that Max Verstappen would be “at the top” of Mercedes’ wish list of Formula 1 drivers if Lewis Hamilton decided to leave.

Hamilton recently agreed a new contract to remain with Mercedes for the upcoming 2021 F1 season, though the deal leaves the door open for the seven-time world champion to potentially quit the sport at the end of the year. 

It has been mooted that Mercedes would try and sign Verstappen as Hamilton’s replacement were the Briton to call time on his F1 career, and Red Bull boss Horner expects a swoop from Mercedes for its star driver if Hamilton decides not to return for 2022. 

“I’m sure that should Lewis decide to stop, then Max will naturally be the driver at the top of the list,” said Horner. 

“But they also have George Russell, they’ve also got other drivers obviously available to them.” 

Horner also moved to confirm the long-held suspicion that Verstappen does indeed have a performance-related clause in his F1 contract with Red Bull, though it is not linked to the power unit as some have suggested. 

Verstappen penned a new long-term deal with Red Bull at the start of last year that commits him to the team until the end of 2023, and Horner is confident the Dutchman still fully believes in the Milton Keynes squad’s project. 

"All drivers have safeguards within performance and the reality is that, yes, of course, as there has always been, there is an element of performance-related to Max's contract,” he explained. 

"I'm not going to go into what that is. It doesn't relate to the power unit in any way, it's just a binary performance at a certain measurement in time.

"As with all these things to force a driver that doesn't want to be there, it's more about relationships than contracts, and you only pull a contract out of a drawer when you've got a problem, in my experience.

"The relationship with Max is very strong. He believes in the project. He believes in what we're doing. He sees the investment that Red Bull is making, very much with the recent commitment on the powertrain, he believes in the people within the team, working within the team.

“And I'm confident that we won't need to refer to any contractual clauses. I think it will ultimately be down to us to deliver a competitive car. That's what he wants, that's what we want. He needs that, we need that. So in that respect, we're both in the same, identical situation."

 

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