Max Verstappen warned against ‘stupid’ defection from Red Bull to Mercedes

A former F1 driver says it would be “stupid” for Max Verstappen to leave Red Bull for Mercedes as speculation mounts around the world champion’s future.

Verstappen has won the first two races of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and is on track to win his fourth consecutive F1 world title — matching Sebastian Vettel’s dominant run with Red Bull from 2010-13.

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Sergio Perez has also started the season well, giving Red Bull a pair of 1-2 results, but unrest off the track at Red Bull has raised the unthinkable possibility that Verstappen could leave the team.

The scandal surrounding Christian Horner’s alleged treatment of a female Red Bull colleague has put his position in doubt and exposed a power struggle between the team principal and Red Bull’s veteran motorsport advisor Helmut Marko.

Verstappen said last week his future at the team was tied to Marko, who identified the Dutchman as a prodigious talent as a teenager and plucked him into Red Bull’s junior program.

“I am loyal to Helmut. He is a big and important part in my decision making and important he stays within the team including everyone else,” Verstappen said.

“It is important we keep people together because if an important pillar falls away, that is not good for my career as well.

“So for me, Helmut has to stay. He has built this team with [Red Bull co-founder] Dietrich Mateschitz from day one and been loyal.

“You need to give the man respect for what he has done and that comes back to loyalty and integrity and is important to why he stays part of the team.”

Max Verstappen is on track for a fourth straight F1 title. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Marko, 80, remains arguably the best talent identifier in F1 and is credited with Red Bull’s growth in F1 despite his tendency to create frequent headlines.

Verstappen, 26, is contracted with Red Bull until the end of the 2028 season and has previously stated he doesn’t plan on driving well into his late-thirties.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner had emphatically stated that Verstappen would remain with the team and see out his contract, but has subsequently changed his tune in an intriguing concession.

“I’m sure every team in the paddock would love to have Max,” Horner said after the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

“But as Toto (Wolff, Mercedes boss) also said, the best drivers always want to be in the best cars.”

Despite talk of tensions between Horner and the Verstappen-Marko duo, Horner claimedhis relationship is “absolutely fine with Max”.

Horner added: “He’s working well within the team, there’s no tension, there’s no stress, you can see how relaxed he is around the garage with everybody in the team and that’s translating to his performance on track as well. So we don’t see any issues with Max.”

But asked whether he is certain that the star Dutchman would see out his contract until 2028, Horner made an awkward admission.

“You can never say never,” Horner claimed. “If a driver doesn’t want to be somewhere, then they’ll go somewhere else.

“It’s like anything in life, you can’t force somebody to be somewhere just because of a piece of paper. If somebody didn’t want to be at this team, then we’re not going to force somebody against their will to be here.

“And that applies, whether it’s a machine operator, or a designer, or somebody in one of the support functions, that runs through the business… As a team, I can’t see any reason why anybody would want to step out of this team.”

The off-track drama at Red Bull has raised the possibility of Verstappen defecting to Mercedes next year to take Lewis Hamilton’s seat after he moves to Ferrari.

Mercedes are yet to settle on a replacement for Hamilton in 2025, with Ferrari discard Carlos Sainz, two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo and Mercedes academy prodigy Kimi Antonelli the main candidates.

A Red Bull power struggle is playing out between Christian Horner and Helmut Marko. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Former F1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella believes it wouldn’t be wise for Verstappen to leave a dominant team like Red Bull for Mercedes, which has struggled since claiming seven straight titles in 2014-2020.

“Anything is possible in Formula 1 and in life, you just never know,” said Fisichella, per OCB Scores.

“Nobody expected to see Lewis Hamilton moving from Mercedes and especially closing the deal with Ferrari. Nobody expected that.

“But we don’t know if Max will join Mercedes, next year or in the future. In the place where he is now with the best team and the best car – it’s stupid to move to another team.

“The salary is good at Red Bull and it could be the same or even more in Mercedes so who knows?

“But you know, you got a winning car, you are at the top of the world at the moment. Why, why move to another team?”

With 56 race wins, Verstappen has already passed Vettel (53) by that measure and is mounting his case as the greatest driver of all time every time he wins a race and championship.

“He’s mentally and physically on top,” Fisichella said.

“He’s got so much confidence and one of the most important things is that he’s so comfortable with his car.”

There’s a spare spot at Mercedes in 2025. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Could Verstappen leave Red Bull? (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Interestingly, former driver and commentator Johnny Herbert told last year Verstappen may need to win a championship with a second team if he wants to go down as the greatest F1 driver of all time.

Lewis Hamilton won with McLaren in 2008 before his run with Mercedes, while Michael Schumacher won two titles with Benetton before his dynasty at Ferrari in the 2000s.

“The thing I always remember with the champions of the past — a lot of people said, ‘If you only win with one team you’ve only been able to do it there and you haven’t proved you’re able to go and do it somewhere else’,” Herbert said.

“Which was like Michael for example, or Lewis as well. They proved they could actually move to another team and that signalled to certain people that they were one of the greats because they didn’t just do it with one car.

“I think that’s very unfair to be honest because there’s a hell of a lot of work that goes into making that work in that given team. Even if it’s one team or two teams, it doesn’t really matter.

“That’s the only thing people have said in the past — that they need to do it in another car to prove it, but I don’t think you do.”

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