Red Bull expect Mercedes to make a swoop for Max Verstappen if Lewis Hamilton decides not to drive for them again in 2022.

Hamilton signed a one-year extension to his current Mercedes contract earlier this year and may decide not to return for the 2022 F1 season.

“I’m sure that should Lewis decide to stop then Max would 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 on.”

While Verstappen is contracted to Red Bull until the end of 2023, team principal Christian Horner admitted there are clauses under which he could leave early if the team’s performance falls short of a certain level.

“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,” said Horner. “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.”

Red Bull confirmed today it will continue to use power units designed by Honda after the Japanese manufacturer leaves the sport at the end of this season. It will take over production and maintenance of the units in a new facility at its Milton Keynes base. Horner hopes this decision will help the team hold on to its star driver.

“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 it’s very much with this recent commitment on the power train. He believes in the people within the team and 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.”

New technical regulations for 2022 will also offer Red Bull the opportunity to close the gap to Mercedes, Horner added.

“There’s no guarantees for 2022. It’s a complete clean sheet of paper. If there’s going to be a significant mix-up of the order, one would assume it’s going to be with that big regulation change.”

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