5 Formula 1

The rumor mill about Max Verstappen is bubbling. © ANSA / ALI HAIDER

Verstappen's flirtation with Mercedes: "You can't force anyone"

In the midst of the explosive power struggle at Red Bull, an escape route is emerging for Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen. Despite a long-term contract until the end of 2028, the Dutch star driver should not be forced to stay - if he actually wants to leave his home racing team early.

“It's like everything in life: you can't force someone to be somewhere just because there's a piece of paper,” the trade magazine Autosport quoted Verstappen's criticized team boss Christian Horner after the Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia last weekend. “If someone doesn’t want to work on this team, then we won’t force anyone to work here against their will.”

At Red Bull, this applies to machinists as well as designers - and now also to Verstappen. The question, however, is not just whether Verstappen has already reached the point of wanting to leave. But also what Horner's explosive statements trigger in the drinks company's already tense management team.

Mercedes as a new home for Verstappen?

In any case, Verstappen would have a happy new boss in Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. The Austrian is looking for a successor to Formula 1 record world champion Lewis Hamilton, who is moving to Ferrari next year. And Wolff would also sign up Verstappen's sponsor and Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko, joked the Mercedes official in Saudi Arabia.

Helmut Marko's future is uncertain. © APA/afp / GIUSEPPE CACACE

“We're missing our old mascot anyway,” Wolff joked on ORF, keeping in mind his team supervisory board member and Austrian compatriot Niki Lauda, ​​who died in 2019 and whose trademark was a red cap. “He’s age-appropriate. He doesn’t have a red cap, but then he comes to us.”

In addition to the realization that the explosive power struggle at Red Bull could plunge the industry leader into crisis, there was a second realization in Jeddah: Wolff has not lost his sense of humor. Even if the former world champion team Mercedes is following behind for the third year in a row.

Wolff would “love” Verstappen

Where Red Bull and three-time world champion Verstappen currently stand, namely at the top, is where the Silver Arrows and their superstar Hamilton once stood. But the Englishman, unnerved by chasing behind, is switching to Scuderia next season. Verstappen would be the deluxe solution for the successor. “I would love to have it,” assured Wolff, “but we have to solve the problems with our car first.”

Toto Wolff would like to sign Max Verstappen. © ANSA / ALI HAIDER

For the third year in a row, Mercedes has not been able to get its unstable rear under control, which costs time in the fast corners. The drivers also continue to complain about so-called bouncing, which is an aerodynamic phenomenon where the car essentially jumps over the asphalt. “We finally have to get this under control,” demanded a frustrated Hamilton, who won his last Grand Prix in December 2021 in Saudi Arabia.
“The Max will always go wherever the fastest car is.” Toto wolff

Verstappen, on the other hand, has won the last nine races across all seasons. “The Max will always drive where there is the fastest car: and today that is the Red Bull,” said Wolff, who has a good relationship with Max and his father Jos. “We have been feeling for ten years. We've been talking to each other since he's been in Formula 1.” The Dutchman's contract actually runs until the end of 2028. But a clause should enable him to leave early if his sponsor Marko has to leave.

This scenario is not completely ruled out, even if replacing the grumpy Austrian, who has a contract until 2026, is off the table for now after a crisis meeting with Red Bull managing director Oliver Mintzlaff. “Without him in the team, I think there will be a problem, even for myself,” said Verstappen.

Power struggle at Red Bull

The source of the turmoil lies in the simmering scandal surrounding team boss Horner, who has long been considered Marko's adversary. An employee had accused the Brit of inappropriate behavior. After an internal investigation, the complaint was dismissed. However, anonymous emails with juicy details were then sent to journalists and Formula 1 officials, putting the 50-year-old under pressure again. Marko was suspected as the source of the data leak.

Christian Horner is under pressure. © ANSA / ALI HAIDER

Horner was supported until recently by the Thai majority owners of Red Bull, who, according to the media, are fighting with the Austrian side of the drinks group over the heirs of the deceased co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz. Both parties had reportedly agreed to meet in Dubai last Sunday for further discussions about the conflict-ridden situation. Horner's latest offer to Verstappen for a way out is likely to further fuel the situation at Red Bull.


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