Red Bull: Verstappen ahead of Russell in list of Hamilton replacements

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Max Verstappen would be ahead of George Russell on Mercedes' list of Lewis Hamilton replacements, Red Bull claim.

Earlier this month, it was announced the seven-time world champion had signed only a one-year extension to his previous contract, which expired at the end of 2020.

Mercedes hope that will be followed by a new longer-term deal being agreed this year, but it has boosted the conversation over who will take the Briton's seat when he does eventually retire.

Currently, Russell is seen as Mercedes' next big talent, but Red Bull boss Christian Horner thinks Verstappen's undeniable ability combined with the Brackley-based team's previous interest in him might work in his favour.

“I’m sure that should Lewis decide to stop, then Max will naturally be the driver at the top of the list,” he said this week. 

“But they also have George Russell, they’ve also got other drivers obviously available to them.” 

Currently, Verstappen is officially signed at Red Bull until the end of 2023. But Horner repeated what Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko confirmed recently that the Dutchman does indeed have a possible route out after this year.

"All drivers have safeguards within performance and the reality is that yes, of course, as there has always been, there is an element of performance-related to Max’s contract," said the Briton.

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"I’m not going to go into what that is. It doesn’t relate to the power unit in any way, it’s just a binary performance at a certain measurement in time."

Despite that, the Red Bull chief thinks ultimately, the future potential of the team will keep Max there until the end of his current deal at least.

"As with all these things to force a driver that doesn’t want to be there… it’s more about relationships than contracts, and you only pull a contract out of a drawer when you’ve got a problem, in my experience," Horner explained.

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"The relationship with Max is very strong. He believes in the project. He believes in what we’re doing.

"He sees the investment that Red Bull is making it’s very much with this recent commitment on the power train.

"He believes in the people within the team and working within the team. And I’m confident that we won’t need to refer to any contractual clauses.

"I think it will ultimately be down to us to deliver a competitive car. That’s what he wants, that’s what we want.

"He needs that, we need that. So in that respect, we’re both in the same, identical situation."