Admitting that Max Verstappen would be the obvious choice for Mercedes should Lewis Hamilton quit, for the first time, Red Bull boss, Christian Horner confirms that the Dutch driver does have a performance clause in his contract.
Such a clause has long been talked about, but neither the driver nor his team was willing to talk about it.
Then, on the day Red Bull announces that it is further investing in the sport by purchasing Honda’s power unit technology, Christian Horner finally comes clean.
“All drivers have safeguards within performance,” the Briton told reporters, “and the reality is that as there has always been.
“There is an element of performance related to Max’s contract,” he added. “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, though, to force a driver that doesn’t want to be there, it’s more about relationships than contracts,” he continued. “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 insisted. “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.
“I’m confident that we won’t need to refer to any contractual clauses. I think that 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 an identical situation.”
Fact is that Verstappen is about to begin his fifth full season with Red Bull, a campaign that, thus far, has netted 10 wins and third in the driver standings for the past two seasons.
However, widely regarded as one of the most thrilling drivers on the grid, the Dutch youngster wants to challenging for wins and titles on a regular basis and at present the only way to achieve that is be being in a black car featuring a three pointed star on its nose and engine.
Furthermore, having demanded a freeze on engine development, should the power unit Honda ‘bequeaths’ to Red Bull prove not to be up to the job, the Austrian team, and its star driver, are stuck with it.
Furthermore, with Lewis Hamilton only agreeing a one year deal there is obviously speculation linking Verstappen with the most envied seat on the grid.
“I’m sure that should Lewis decide to stop then Max would naturally be the driver at the top of the list,” admits Horner. “But they also have George Russell. They’ve also got other drivers obviously available to them. And I think again, as I say, it’s all down to relationships and us forming a competitive car.
“There are 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.”