Red Bull confident of retaining Max Verstappen amid Mercedes move rumours

Mercedes fined for high-speed near miss at Saudi Arabian GP practice

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen during second practice for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. AP
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Red Bull are confident three-time world champion Max Verstappen will remain with the team amid rumours that he might be eyeing a move to rival Mercedes.

Verstappen's contract runs through 2028 and the Dutchman said this week that he's "very happy" with Red Bull. However, team principal Christian Horner held a meeting with Verstappen's manager after having a public argument with the driver's father, Jos, at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Horner has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons recently. He was cleared following an investigation into alleged misconduct, and Verstappen's father Jos said this week that "the team is in danger of being torn apart."

The elder Verstappen was also seen talking to Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, adding to rumours that Max could be a target when Lewis Hamilton leaves for Ferrari next year.

Horner downplayed that possibility on Thursday, stating at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix that he is "certain" Verstappen will be with Red Bull through at least his current contract.

"He's got a great team around him. He's got great faith in that team. And we've achieved an awful lot together," Horner said. "So he's committed to an agreement until 2028."

Horner said that he spoke with Jos following the Bahrain race and that both sides have agreed to move on.

"I think it's in everybody's interest, collectively, that we've agreed to move on, to focus on the future," Horner said, according to "We both have a vested interest in his son to get the best and provide the best cars for him and to get the best out of him.

"And he's started the season in the best possible way. He's an outstanding talent. And hopefully, we can continue to provide him with a very competitive car."

At the track, Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso was fastest in Thursday's floodlit second practice for the Saudi Arabian GP after Verstappen set the afternoon pace.

George Russell was second on the timesheets for Mercedes, 0.230 slower than Alonso's one minute 28.827 second effort, with Verstappen third and 0.331 off the Spaniard's best.

The second session was delayed briefly due to reported loose drain covers, a problem that beset testing in Bahrain last month and also in Las Vegas last November. This time the matter was swiftly resolved.

Alonso had been second in the first session, 0.186 slower than triple world champion Verstappen's 1:29.659.

Meanwhile, Hamilton's Mercedes team were fined nearly £13,000 - and the British driver was slapped with a warning - following a near "serious high-speed crash" in practice in the kingdom.

Williams driver Logan Sargeant was forced to take evasive action to avoid hitting the back of Hamilton's slow-moving Mercedes.

Formula One's stewards said Mercedes should have informed Hamilton that Sargeant was approaching him on a quick lap. The Jeddah Corniche Circuit is the fastest street track on the F1 calendar.

Carlos Sainz, who Hamilton will replace at Ferrari next year and who witnessed the incident, said over the radio: "What Hamilton did there is super dangerous.

"He was in the middle (of the track). He could have got out of the way. Sargeant nearly crashed because of him."

Hamilton, who finished eighth in practice, six places behind team-mate Russell, was summoned to see the stewards.

Updated: March 08, 2024, 7:52 AM