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Will Verstappen be a Red Bull Formula 1 'lifer'?

OPINION: Max Verstappen’s bumper new Red Bull Formula 1 deal will keep him at the team until he is 31, but could it pave the way to a partnership even more permanent?

Race winner and 2021 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing celebrates with his team

Race winner and 2021 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing celebrates with his team

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

News of Max Verstappen’s new Red Bull Formula 1 contract reportedly worth around €50m per year may have come as no surprise - but its duration is the big talking point.

In what is understood to be one of the longest contract arrangements in F1 history, Verstappen has committed to Red Bull until the end of the 2028 season. His previous contract ran until the end of 2023, but five years have been added on top, making it a seven-year deal. Putting that into context, the next-longest agreement on the grid, which belongs to Lando Norris, only runs to the end of 2025.

By the time this deal is up, Verstappen will be 31 years old, have 14 seasons under his belt, around 300 race starts, and surely have added a decent amount of race wins to his current tally of 20. The prospect of Verstappen failing to add to his maiden championship from last year also seems unlikely. It’s daunting to think what he may achieve through that period so long as Red Bull can remain one of F1’s forefront teams.

“The decision was quite straightforward,” Verstappen said following the announcement. “From both sides, we wanted to continue. From the start, I felt really good in the team, and especially after last year, I only saw one way forward and that was with this team.”

It only further develops the unique story and relationship between Verstappen and Red Bull. By the time this contract is up, Verstappen may be nearing the final couple of agreements of his F1 career - and if the success with Red Bull has continued, why would he look elsewhere?

At this rate, Verstappen could be a Red Bull ‘lifer’. It was the team that took a punt on a 16-year-old in his first season of Formula 3 and handed him his first F1 drive with Toro Rosso; the team that called him up to the senior team just months into his second season, for whom he won his first race; and the team that gave him his first world title. Perhaps it will be the team where he achieves all of his ‘lasts’ as well.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18

Photo by: Erik Junius

There was never any doubt about Verstappen’s ability. Through his early years at Red Bull, he was able to grab race wins and take the fight to Mercedes on occasion, but the team simply wasn’t in a position to do that on a regular basis. Once it was though, in 2021, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

The groundworks are in place for the Red Bull project to only get stronger, even through the budget cap era. The Red Bull Powertrains project is coming together with the expansion of the campus at Milton Keynes, while a possible partnership with Porsche is also understood to be on the horizon. The team has also signed big-money deals with new title sponsor Oracle and crypto company Bybit in recent weeks, ensuring the coffers are well-stocked. All of this is lending strength to a Red Bull operation that has just won a world championship.

PLUS: How Red Bull can be even better in F1 2022

And Verstappen, as he has been since Daniel Ricciardo’s departure at the end of 2018 - or arguably even before that - will be at the very heart of all its efforts. Team boss Christian Horner called Verstappen’s new contract a “statement of intent”, and understandably so: Red Bull isn’t planning to let its once-in-a-generation talent slip away, particularly when things are building in such a positive direction.

‘Lifers’ are rare in any sport, but especially in F1 where car performance is make-or-break to success, and the prestige - and, naturally, money - provided by rival teams can be too attractive to turn down. Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton are two examples of drivers who left the teams that gave them their big break, only to go on and enjoy much greater success elsewhere, justifying their moves in emphatic fashion.

The ties between Verstappen and Red Bull are incredibly deep-rooted. When he said after clinching the title in Abu Dhabi that he hoped “we can do this for 10-15 years together” and there was “no reason to change ever”, you feel he really meant it.

Max Verstappen wins on his Red Bull F1 debut at the 2016 Spanish GP

Max Verstappen wins on his Red Bull F1 debut at the 2016 Spanish GP

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Verstappen has also never shown much of a curiosity to drive for a team with the kind of heritage Red Bull cannot enjoy, such as Ferrari. For him, the important thing is to succeed on-track and have fun off it. Red Bull is ticking both of those boxes for him right now.

“Even after winning the championship, my ambition is still to win races and try to fight for the championship again,” Verstappen said. “Now we don’t need to think about it anymore. We know how long the contract is, and we can just work together. Besides, trying to fight for wins and championship, what is important as well is to have a good time and have fun, and enjoy your time in Formula 1."

The deal also removes one of the big players out of the driver market for the foreseeable future. Verstappen has rarely been seriously linked with a move elsewhere, but there have always been escape clauses in his agreements. Horner said back in February 2021 that there was “an element of performance related to Max's contract”, referring to the team, which was “a binary performance at a certain measurement in time”. A similar clause paved the way for Vettel to leave Red Bull at the end of 2014 and join Ferrari.

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Horner said at the time he envisaged Verstappen would be “top of the list” for Mercedes if Lewis Hamilton, who back then was only committed until the end of 2021, but has since signed a deal to the end of 2023. Much more has changed since then, given the fraught nature of last year’s title fight and Mercedes’ signing of George Russell, who will surely be its long-term bet whenever Hamilton does opt to hang up his helmet.

Verstappen’s new contract also furthers the idea of the market revolving around teams getting stability with a long-term deal for at least one of their drivers, while the second seat may be more fluid. McLaren has done that with Norris, as has Ferrari with Charles Leclerc, who is two seasons into a deal taking him to the end of 2024 - and one would imagine will be up for discussion in the near future. Both could also come into the ‘lifer’ discussion down the line.

As they bask in the post-championship honeymoon phase, the Verstappen/Red Bull partnership is one that only threatens get stronger and more successful. Their long-term deal is proof of the grand plans they have together - and it could well be neither ever need to look elsewhere.

Race winner and 2021 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing celebrates with Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner

Race winner and 2021 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing celebrates with Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner

Photo by: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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