Formula 1: Is Red Bull power enough to keep Max Verstappen?

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Giuseppe Cacace - Pool/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Giuseppe Cacace - Pool/Getty Images) /

Red Bull have decided they will manage the Honda engine from the 2022 Formula 1 season, but can they keep hold of star driver Max Verstappen?

Red Bull Racing have always been a customer team ever since they entered Formula 1 in 2005.

The drinks company from Milton Keynes have always focused on designing and building the best chassis in F1 and have allowed the tricky engine stuff to be managed by someone else, buying in engines from Ferrari, Renault and now Honda.

But when the Japanese manufacturer decided to pull out from Formula 1 after 2021, Red Bull were forced between a rock and a hard place: manage the engine themselves or become a customer outfit again.

Red Bull have taken the plunge and have announced that they will take over from Honda in managing their power units from the 2022 season.

This announcement came after the confirmation that development on the current power units will be frozen at the end of the year until the end of 2024.

Red Bull will set up their own in-house engine division, Red Bull Powertrains Ltd., providing engines for both Red Bull Racing and sister team AlphaTauri until at least the 2025 season.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner stated the following.

"“We were understandably disappointed when Honda made the decision to leave the sport as an engine manufacturer, as our relationship yielded immediate success, but we are grateful for their support in facilitating this new agreement.“Honda has invested significantly in hybrid technology to ensure the supply of competitive power units to both teams. We now begin the work of bringing the power unit division in-house and integrating the new facilities and personnel into our Technology Campus.”"

So what does this do to the driver market?

Max Verstappen has a contract with Red Bull until 2023, with the Austrian team prioritizing the Dutchman when it comes to the direction of their future.

But that does not necessarily mean that Verstappen will be with the team even beyond this year.

Recently, seven-time Formula 1 world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton signed a single-year contract with Mercedes after long and protracted negotiations which started even before the 2020 season began. That does not look good for an extension to the relationship…

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Hamilton has been with Mercedes his whole life, having signed as a Mercedes junior, but it is looking likely that his driving career with them could end at the end of this year.

Even if Hamilton and Mercedes continue, the Briton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, is under huge pressure after being outshone by George Russell in the Sakhir Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit. He knows that unless he wins the world championship, he will likely be out at the end of the year.

How does this situation influence Verstappen?

A few days ago, it was reported by PlanetF1 that Senior Red Bull advisor Dr. Helmut Marko has said that Verstappen has a performance clause in his contract involving being able to fight for the world championship.

So unless Red Bull can take huge strides and achieve just that, Verstappen would be free to head to Brackley if he so wishes.

But could Red Bull’s new commitment to becoming a semi-factory outfit be the incentive that he needs to stay put?

Would he think that Red Bull will be a threat if he leaves for Mercedes?

That is the ultimate question right now about Red Bull’s decision.

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The 2020 Red Bull car was, on average, around a half-second per lap slower than the 2020 Mercedes car. This means that there will have to be a massive turnaround for Verstappen to be able to fight for the world championship, and after two and now potentially three years of Honda failing to meet expectations, what reason does he have to think that it will be any better with the same engine being managed by Red Bull?