Could Max Verstappen really join Mercedes in 2025? Here’s what we know

Red Bull’s three-time world champion has a break clause in his contract which could give Toto Wolff hope of landing the Dutchman

Kieran Jackson
Formula One Correspondent
Wednesday 06 March 2024 19:28 GMT
Christian Horner and Max Verstappen’s father have ‘heated’ exchange at Bahrain GP

In the never-ending topsy-turvy circus of Formula One, it’s wise to expect the unexpected.

Yet these latest shenanigans regarding Christian Horner, Max Verstappen and Red Bull – and the potential fallout and consequences of internal politics within the team – would be monumentally seismic for the sport.

The controversy surrounding Horner doesn’t seem to have concluded just yet. The latest is that Horner met with Verstappen’s manager in Dubai on Monday, to de-escalate tensions within the team after Verstappen’s father Jos implied that Horner’s position as team principal was untenable.

But where are we heading in this matter? What could the potential fallout be? And could Red Bull be in danger of losing their star driver to their biggest rivals?

The Independent gives the low-down on all matters Verstappen, Red Bull and Horner:

What’s happened to put Verstappen’s long-term future at Red Bull in doubt?

After his first world championship following that dramatic and contentious 2021 finale in Abu Dhabi, Verstappen signed a long-term extension with Red Bull until the 2028 season, with his salary reported to be around £50m a year.

The message was clear: the flying Dutchman was here to stay. However, the current rumours about Verstappen’s future stem from a divide playing out behind the scenes at the world champions.

In one camp, there is Helmut Marko: Red Bull’s long-term motorsport advisor, central to Verstapppen’s rapid development at the team since his debut as a 17-year-old in 2015. The 80-year-old is a close ally of both Max and Jos.

On the other side of the divide, as we have learnt in recent weeks amid the internal investigation into his conduct, is Horner – Red Bull Racing’s team principal, chief executive and the team’s sole figurehead since their inception 19 years ago.

What has emerged in the last 48 hours is of more significance, though. It is understood that there is a break clause in Verstappen’s contract allowing him to leave Red Bull should Marko also depart. Marko said when asked: “As far as I am concerned, I will not stand in the way of Max.”

Max is now in the middle of the split. Verstappen Sr told The Daily Mail on Saturday night: “There is tension here while he [Horner] remains in position. The team is in danger of being torn apart. It can’t go on the way it is. It will explode. He is playing the victim … when he is the one causing the problems.”

Christian Horner speaking with Helmut Marko in Bahrain last week (Getty)
Jos Verstappen wants Horner out of Red Bull (AP)

Questioned further on whether he was the source of the leak of hundreds of WhatsApp messages last week, he said: “That wouldn’t make sense. Why would I do that when Max is doing so well here?”

Regarding the Mercedes-specific link, Jos was seen in conversation with Silver Arrows boss Toto Wolff in the Bahrain paddock and reportedly the pair had dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manama.

Wolff has made no secret of his regret at not signing Verstappen as a junior ahead of Red Bull. Before the 2021 title clash, he still held out hope of signing the Dutchman, before the bitter battle between the two teams that year seemed to diminish that possibility.

However, no matter how small the crack, Wolff would be insane not to pursue any opportunity to land the quickest driver of his generation.

Why would Verstappen move away from Red Bull?

Right now, in this current phase of regulations, leaving Red Bull would as good as mean leaving guaranteed race wins and titles.

Verstappen has long said he simply wants to drive for the team where he has the best chance of winning. For this year, and likely 2025, that is Red Bull. But the pecking order could well change in 2026 when new engine regulations come into force.

There is also something to be said for Verstappen’s overall F1 career – does he want to be a one-team man? Jim Clark, with Lotus from 1960-1967, is the only world championship-winning driver to have driven for just one team. The history of the sport tells us that the star drivers, as Lewis Hamilton has most recently shown, enjoy the lure and prestige of a dream transfer.

Sure, Verstappen has technically driven for two teams given he started at the Red Bull sister team in Toro Rosso. But in time, will there be a nagging sense from Verstappen to try his luck at a traditional titan of the sport, such as Ferrari, Mercedes or McLaren?

Max Verstappen has won 21 of the last 24 F1 races (Getty)

Would Mercedes want Verstappen?

Absolutely! Verstappen has shown in the last three years that he has managed to match his remarkable raw ability and speed at the wheel of a racing car with maturity and race awareness. His form is staggering too – he has won 21 of the last 24 F1 races.

Mercedes have an open seat next year, as Hamilton heads to Ferrari. George Russell will occupy one seat and it may be a year or two too early for their upcoming hotshot Kimi Antonelli.

Fernando Alonso could work on a short-term deal. Alex Albon and Carlos Sainz – whom Hamilton is replacing at the Scuderia – have also been linked.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff had dinner with Jos Verstappen in Bahrain (PA Wire)

But Verstappen would be the shock of all shocks. And the signings of all signings.

What has been said on the possible move?

On Wednesday, ahead of this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Verstappen was asked if he could ever see himself at Mercedes and refused to rule out a shock switch.

“The thing is, nobody would have ever seen that Lewis [Hamilton] would move to Ferrari,” he told reporters in Jeddah.

“That’s not related to F1, it’s just general life. You never know what happens around you or what might influence you. You can never say 100 per cent what is going to be.

“But I also don’t think about it too much – I’m very relaxed. I’m very happy with the team, the performance is there, there is no reason to leave.”

Mercedes driver Russell insisted that the Silver Arrows should target Verstappen if the Dutchman becomes available.

Wolff, however, was more reserved in his assessment of the situation, saying there is “no reason” for Verstappen to leave Red Bull, given their current domination.

“The [2025 driver] market is very interesting,” he told Sky Italia. “For a driver, the most important thing is to be with whoever is fastest, and there is no reason now for Max to leave Red Bull anytime soon.

“But we’ll see what happens.”

What is the overall verdict on a shock 2025 Verstappen-Mercedes transfer?

As things stand, it is very unlikely and remains a far-fetched link.

Irrespective of the deeper intra-team politics at play as the Horner situation – we think – nears some kind of conclusion or resolution, Red Bull are a winning machine right now. No team can match them and while Adrian Newey continues to thrive in this ground-effect phase of F1 car, their grasp on the world championship is unlikely to be loosened.

But never say never. The Verstappen father-son duo are firm in their beliefs and morals. Should they feel teaming up with Horner in the long run opposes those values, a move elsewhere could be somewhat appetising. At the minimum, it is Jos’s ultimate powerplay and bargaining chip amid the current squabbles. Marko’s future – given the Verstappen release clause – could influence things one way or another as well. Things can twist quickly in Formula One.

After all, six weeks ago, Hamilton’s shifting to Ferrari in 2025 seemed nothing more than a pipe dream.

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