It was announced earlier this afternoon that Red Bull star man Max Verstappen has signed a new contract extension with the team, one that will see him staying in Milton Keynes through the end of the 2023 season.
There are a number of reasons as to why this is one of the most important deals we will see in the sport across the next number of seasons, partly as Verstappen had been at the centre of the 2020 free agency pool. It was imperative that Red Bull lock down their driver to an extension, sooner rather than later.
With his previous deal coming up at the same time as a raft of other drivers on the grid it led to a vast amount of uncertainty around whether or not he would be staying at Red Bull. There had been a slew of rumours that Hamilton would be moving across to Ferarri and Verstappen would take his place at Mercedes – a move that would be a huge blow to Red Bull.
The signing of this contract extension for Verstappen is a big boost for Christian Horner’s team, as the Dutchman is signalling his confidence in the outfit to put him in a championship winning car by the end of the 2023 season. Realistically there was no pressure for Verstappen to sign a new deal, being one of the best drivers on the grid he could have comfortably waited to begin discussions with other teams and taken time to weigh up his options. The fact that he hasn’t done so either signals a degree of loyalty to the team that has promoted his career so far, or that he knows something we currently don’t.
We saw it with Lewis Hamilton making his original move from McLaren to Mercedes, people questioning why he would want to commit his future to a team that had yet to prove they could challenge for the title with their current setup, however the Brit would go on to prove exactly why he signed that deal. We posed the same questions last year as Daniel Ricciardo decided to make the switch from Red Bull to Renault, with slightly less success at the writing of this article.
While Red Bull are currently in a better position than either of those two teams were when their respective stars joined them, they’re still a ways off being able to challenge for the title. We have seen a push from Red Bull towards the back end of the past two seasons, however that form never seems to continue into the next year. Is Verstappen confident that is about to change?
Outside of Red Bull, this deal will also have an impact on the remainder of the grid. With Verstappen staying put it’s unlikely we’ll see another opening at Red Bull for the foreseeable future, unless Alex Albon begins to struggle at the beginning of next season. This means that it could well be time for Pierre Gasly to begin looking for seats outside of the Red Bull programme, as he clearly doesn’t have a long term future with the team anymore. It is something we have seen with both Carlos Sainz and Esteban Ocon in recent times, leaving their driver academies and making the switch to a new team.
It does also mean Mercedes will likely have to look elsewhere if Hamilton does decide to leave at the end of next season, I’d be dumbfounded if they managed to buy out Verstappen’s contract the same way they did with Bottas.
We may not have even reached the beginning of the 2020 season yet, however things are already heating up a little in the driver market.