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Formula 1 Austrian GP

Ben Hunt: Verstappen stays at Red Bull, but why didn't he just say it the first time?

As expected, the Formula 1 world champion has confirmed he will remain with the world champions but was coy in doing so. Why was he being so guarded?

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

It was a one-word answer that subsequently killed off any lingering doubt - if there was any - about where he would be driving next season.

It took many attempts to extrapolate the answer but we got there in the end.
Max Verstappen says he is staying put at Red Bull for next season.

In doing so, he diffused the potential powder keg at Red Bull ahead of their home race at the Austrian Grand Prix, where there is expected to be another show of support for the race team from the energy drink bosses.

Yet it was the manner in which Verstappen delivered the news, which admittedly many expected, which was perplexing. A hesitancy to answer the question, but why?

For nearly four months questions have been raised about his future in the team after his father's explosive outburst towards team principal Christian Horner in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Jos Verstappen claimed the team would be "torn apart" should Horner be allowed to remain in his post adding that his son could be forced to quit the all-conquering team, despite having a long-term contract.

What followed was a bumpy few weeks for the reigning F1 world champion as he was asked if he would stay or not but we now appear to have reached a conclusion.

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing with Jos Verstappen

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing with Jos Verstappen

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

It comes at a time of peace - for the meantime at least - between Horner, Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko and Verstappen's father, who incidentally is in the paddock this weekend after missing a host of races this season.

There was speculation that the rumbling uncertainty over his future, which was reignited last weekend with comments from Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, could spark another conflict with the Red Bull hierarchy.

Wolff had said at the Spanish Grand Prix that there were "no talks that are taking place at this stage" although confusingly, Mercedes-Benz CEO Ola Kallenius had told Sky Germany that there was "an opportunity" to sign Verstappen, adding the Dutchman "would look good in silver".

Verstappen was asked at the Red Bull Ring about his future and whether he saw it with the world champions.

He danced around the subject trying to elude what required a simple, straight answer.

"I think I've said this before," Verstappen replied. "I mean naturally of course people are talking, but it's most important just that we have a very competitive car for the future.

"At the moment of course it's very tight, but we are working very well as a team to try and improve more.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

"And for sure, I said this already with the team, we're working and focusing on next year to try and be competitive again."

A further question, this time whether he would consider quitting Red Bull given the fact McLaren had usurped his team and are said to now have the quickest car.

"I don't think that's how Formula 1 works -- where then suddenly you can say, 'well, bye guys'. It's not how it works," Verstappen said somewhat churlishly.

"I have a long contract with the team, I'm very happy where I'm at and, like I said before, we're focussing also already on next year with things we can implement on the car.

"So, I guess that should say enough of where I'm driving next year."

It took one third and final attempt. Asking for a clear 'yes or no' answers to whether he would be driving for the team next season.

He was still deliberately mischievous, saying, "You didn't get that out of my answer before?"

He was pressed a second time and finally said it. "Yes," adding "and that's what I said..." only he hadn't done so.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, celebrates in Parc Ferme

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, celebrates in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

His reluctance to answer the question is puzzling, to say the least, but could reflect the difficult position he finds himself in.

Torn between two sides, he has walked a tightrope of diplomacy by being noncommittal.

Understandably, given their paternal bond, he has supported his father's stance on the team conflict but also managed to repair his relationship with Horner, who naturally wants to keep his star driver.

In not answering the question, he was able to keep both parties happy and maybe seek to assure them in private.

Maybe it is all part of a game to keep Mercedes on the line?

After all, an in-demand driver has bargaining power within the paddock and their attention could prove advantageous from a commercial perspective.

Maybe he is just not so apt at saying no to Wolff. Not risking to burn bridges in the future, and having already put his nose out of joint once before by joining Red Bull's driver programme rather than Mercedes.

Verstappen has listened to Wolff's proposals for the future, in particular 2026 and he wants to keep his options open.

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team at the Press Conference

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team at the Press Conference

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

Another element could perhaps be that he is being deliberately obtuse to allow himself some wriggle room if indeed the Red Bull power struggle did rear its ugly head once more.

By not committing, he would afford himself some leverage if he wanted to cut ties from his contract and seek a new team for next season.
Whatever the reason for his failure to come out and say it, clear as a bell, is largely mysterious.

For the time being then, he's staying put and Red Bull can breathe a sigh of relief. Well, until the next time he’s asked about quitting the team and refuses to answer the question.

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