The dream of Red Bull top advisor and Max Verstappen-explorer Helmut Marko lies in shattering. Due to the continued dominance of rival Mercedes, Verstappen will not be the youngest Formula One World Champion ever. The honorary title therefore remains in the hands of Sebastian Vettel, who grabbed the title in 2010, 134 days after his 23rd birthday.
But much more important is the question whether the 23-year-old Verstappen still has a chance to win his first title next season. The upcoming departure of engine supplier Honda from Formula 1 is a major problem, but the driver of Red Bull now focuses mainly on the remaining seven grands prix of this season and on 2021.
“ Well go on together for over a year and then well see. Its what it is. I have and trust in this project,” says Verstappen.
For the first time since the announcement that Honda will turn its back on Formula 1 at the end of 2021, Verstappen publicly responds to the divorce. “It is a shame, but it is not up to me to change ideas at the Honda Summit. I must respect it and try to understand it,” he says at the Nürburgring, where this seasons eleventh grand prix takes place.
Many F1 insiders were surprised by the news, but Verstappen did not. “I heard it quite shortly before the official announcement, but I felt it coming for a while. I didnt show it, of course.”
The first omen was there last year. Honda extended cooperation with Red Bull only with a short term. Verstappen: “They signed until the end of 2021. No longer. Then you know it can be different than you hope.”
Corona has changed the world
The coronapandemic and the economic downturn have played an important role, says Verstappen. “If you see how this year goes, its a pretty logical decision. The situation in the world is very different from six months ago. Of course, that didnt help, but theres nothing I can do about it. I dont find it hard to process either. Things like this can happen.”
Little will change in the short term, Verstappen expects. “We continue on this foot. Theyre great people to work with. Next season, well get a new Honda power source. I cant go into details about that, but it will be a stronger engine. A nice step forward, although the competition does not stand still either. Were going to push to the final race and try to finish the collaboration in style.”
While Honda says goodbye to Red Bull Racing at the end of 2021, Verstappen is still stuck to the racing stable until 2023. Team boss Christian Horner denies that the Dutchman has a termination clause in his contract related to the departure of the engine supplier. Verstappen wants to say little about it. “I focus on the remaining races and on 2021, and the rest is so far away. Theres no point in thinking about that now. There are so many question marks.”
Despite these questions, Verstappen does not care at all about his future in the king class. “From 2022 everything will be different anyway”, he refers to the change in regulations aimed at changing the status quo in sport and increasing tension.
“ Im not worried. We still have a year and a half to build another engine in the car. Experience shows that this team is pretty good at that.”
Verstappen is shady about the question of which engine should propel it from 2022. “We do not yet know how difficult it is to replace Honda. Their departure does not necessarily have to be negative. We have learned a lot from our motorcycle suppliers over the past few years,” he hints on a self-owned engine.
Is it an option that Red Bull Racing will continue with Hondas farewell engine after 2021 and keep it in-house and develop it? “All options are open. The team leadership is busy with the future. Im not gonna speculate on that right now. In a few months everything could be different.”
Of the three remaining engine suppliers, Mercedes and Ferrari appear to be excluded. Falling back on Renaults customer engines does not necessarily reject Verstappen. Given the extremely difficult relationship between Verstappens racing stable and the French, this is somewhat surprising.
“ Im open to everything, but Im not going over it. The most important thing is that we are and remain competitive.” Funny: “I like everything, as long as I dont become a Fred Flintstone and have to paddle myself. Racing in a pedal car seems a little too challenging to me.”