Max Verstappen became part of Red Bull Racing’s junior program in 2014. The driver was known as one of the greatest talents in the world of motorsport and switched to motorsport at the age of sixteen. The step to Formula 1 was not long in coming for the Dutchman and in 2016, at the age of eighteen, there was the switch to the top team of Red Bull. Yet another contract was ready for Verstappen in 2014 and that contract still seemed to haunt the Red Bull driver’s mind until recently.
So in 2014, Verstappen opted for the Austrian racing stable. The deal between the two parties was not obvious at first, but Red Bull’s story proved convincing enough. The driver received a guarantee from the four-time constructors champion that he could quickly enter Formula 1. Red Bull has kept that promise. Verstappen made his debut for Toro Rosso’s sister team at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix. Less than a year and a half later, there was a chance at the great Red Bull. In Barcelona, the driver immediately took his first win and the rest, as is so often said, is history.
Verstappen is currently completely in his place at Red Bull. After winning his very first world title, the driver asked over the on-board radio whether the team wanted to work with him for another ten to fifteen. But it certainly could have turned out differently for the single world champion. In 2014, top team Mercedes also showed its interest in the services of the Limburger. Under the guidance of father Jos Verstappen and manager Raymond Vermeulen, the choice fell on Red Bull. Nevertheless, Verstappen senior maintained contact with Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff for a long time and it was often suggested in the media that the German racing stable was still eyeing Verstappen’s driving skills. Yet Mercedes does not seem to have to try a new charm offensive against the 24-year-old.
Verstappen’s expiring contract
In 2017, Verstappen signed a new contract with Red Bull during the season. The contract was due to expire after the 2019 season. In addition, there was reportedly a clause that allowed Verstappen to leave on the right terms. This clause was known to top teams Mercedes and Ferrari. According to The London Evening Standard, the driver could sign a contract with one of the teams and earn a salary of twenty million euros a year. The rumors of a switch to Mercedes were the most persistent. Flavio Vanetti, Italian sports journalist, was convinced that Verstappen had already signed a pre-contract with the German formation for 2021 in 2019.
The rumors kept alive because of the ‘Yes/No’ or ‘True/False’ segment at Ziggo Sport. In 2017, both Jos Verstappen and Wolff were subjected to a number of statements by Olav Mol and Jack Plooij. Verstappen Sr. reacted positively to a statement about the possible driver duo that Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton would form. Wolff made it even more colorful. “Max Verstappen will be a Mercedes driver in the future,” said Plooij. After some doubt, but with a smile on his face, the Austrian said ‘yes’. Two years later, the Mercedes team boss revealed that he was in regular contact with the Red Bull driver’s father. Wolff laughed it off and said that Jos and himself were building a karting team for their children.
At the time, Niki Lauda was still an advisor at the German racing stable. The three-time world champion was clearly impressed by the driver Verstappen. The Austrian said several times that he was charmed by the Dutchman. “Max is a very special driver,” Lauda said after the Spanish Grand Prix in 2016. “It is unbelievable that he has won this race. He really did everything right. He is the talent of the century.’ Lauda did not hide the interest of Mercedes in the young Verstappen. “We are watching him very closely at Mercedes.”
The turning point for Verstappen
Verstappen signed a new contract with Red Bull in 2019 until 2023. At the moment it also seems certain that the driver wants a longer contract with his current employer after he has managed to cash in the world title. Still, team boss Christian Horner let go at the start of the season that he thinks Verstappen is still on the list with the rival. “If Lewis decides to retire, I’m sure Max will be high on the list,” the Briton told Motorsport.com in February. “There are no guarantees for 2022, because we will all start with a clean slate,” Horner said.
Verstappen’s statements about the on-board radio after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will not be a lie. The driver believes in the plan that Red Bull has devised. In addition, the relationship with Mercedes is quite watered down. Silverstone was not only a turning point in the battle with Hamilton, but also in the good relationship with the German racing stable. Verstappen’s crash in the first lap of the race in Great Britain is still on the minds of many Formula 1 fans. What both Jos and Max Verstappen will never forget is the way in which the seven-time world champion and the Mercedes garage celebrated after the race.
Verstappen had to endure an impact of 51G. As a precaution, the Red Bull driver had to go to hospital. There the Dutchman saw his title competitor run around the Silverstone circuit with the flag of Great Britain, after winning the race. It went wrong for the Verstappens. “I saw the cheering from the hospital and I thought it was disrespectful. But we will continue,” the driver wrote on his Instagram. “As a father, I don’t like that,” Verstappen senior said in an interview with David Coulthard. “You drive someone into the hospital, and they celebrate like crazy. That was difficult for me to process.’
Hamilton and Wolff showed true colors to Verstappen
Jos Verstappen indicated this year that there have been talks between the Verstappen camp and Mercedes. “There have been conversations with Toto Wolff and I also thought we had a good relationship with him, but the real Toto has shown itself lately. There is no click anymore,” the former driver admitted. He was also unhappy with the behavior of the Mercedes team boss during the Grand Prix weekend in Brazil. ‘Toto is a wolf is sheep’s clothing. Mercedes keeps putting the blame on others and seems to be the favorite child of the FIA.’
A possible collaboration between Verstappen and the eight-time constructors champion seems to be out of the question. Several parties have admitted that both the team and the driver were interested in a collaboration. The relationship has soured in one fell swoop, after Verstappen’s blow to Silverstone and the ‘exaggerated’ cheers from the Mercedes team after the Grand Prix. With this, Hamilton and Wolff showed their ‘true nature’ after, to the annoyance of the Verstappens.
Verstappen chose Red Bull in 2014 and there is therefore a reasonable chance that he will continue to prefer a contract with his current employer over that of other teams for the next ten to fifteen years. Until recently, Mercedes had a good chance to one day take the talented driver under his wing. Interest in Verstappen arose in 2014, the conversations were there and the relationship was well maintained by the personal line between Verstappen senior and Wolff. In just under half a year, the relationship collapsed like a house of cards. In one Grand Prix weekend, the Mercedes team smashed its own windows. For the rest of the season, Wolff only managed to further frustrate the Verstappen family, which led to Jos Verstappen’s outburst. The name Mercedes will have been scratched through with a pen in the Verstappen house.