The titanic fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen will keep F1 and its fans on the edge of their seats in 2021. But what would be better than a fight between Mercedes and Red Bull? Well, what about a battle between both drivers with equal machinery at Mercedes. It would make clear once and for all which of the two top performers is the fastest.
Unfortunately, that fight won't be happening. While Dutch fans may be wondering whether a move to Mercedes is in Verstappen's future, a lot has to happen for that to take place.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff would certainly be interested in the services of the Dutchman. Given Verstappen has an exit clause at Red Bull, Mercedes would be more than interested in landing his services.
The performances of Red Bull-Honda this season will have a large say in Hamilton's future as well. While the Brit has said on more than one occasion that he is more than up for the challenge of having Verstappen as a teammate, things are very different behind the scenes.
Wolff and Mercedes negotiated for months with Hamilton regarding a new contract, and it was only made official just before the start of the 2021 F1 season. After months and months of talks, why was the deal for only one season? And with a reported lower salary as well?
Hamilton signed for just one season and expressed doubts regarding his future before the season even got underway. While the Brit and his team boss never gave a clear answer as to why the contract was so short, it seems there is an explanation for that: the future of Max Verstappen.
The Dutchman is under contract with Red Bull until 2023, but there are exit clauses in his deal. Should Red Bull, or Honda, not perform, Verstappen can get out of his deal - something that has been confirmed by Helmut Marko. Verstappen is currently in the fight for the world championship, meaning those clauses won't be applicable unless something drastic arises.
What is clear is that Wolff and Hamilton want to speak before the summer. The aim is to come to terms on a one-year or two-year contract for the 36-year-old, as they will once again be forced to sit down for talks just months after wrapping up negotiations.
What has changed over the last few months?
Mercedes know Verstappen won't be on the market before 2022. This leaves the door open for Hamilton to continue his career with the German outfit. Wolff knows that the team need a global star to help with exposure for the car brand and to help them compete for the title in 2022. With that in mind, Hamilton is the only option. While George Russell could partner him next season, the young Brit needs experience before he can be considered a true title contender.
For his part, Verstappen has faith in Red Bull and their engine program. However he also knows that more is needed if the Milton Keynes want to be a dominant outfit. While they have certainly taken a step forward in 2021, they still aren't at Mercedes' level just yet.
The Honda engine still lacks power and has a less efficient hybrid system than Mercedes, while the W12 is still slightly faster than the RB16B. With an engine freeze around the corner, one more leap forward is needed from Japan to make success for Red Bull in 2022 and beyond a possibility.
While the championship is the goal in 2021, it isn't a must. With new regulations set to be introduced in 2022, the playing field will be wide open. Red Bull know they have to be up to the challenge and provide Verstappen with a competitive car.
For now, Hamilton knows that the threat of seeing Verstappen at Mercedes is gone. This means he will be the team leader without opposition for the time being, given Valtteri Bottas hasn't been up the task of dethroning him since joining. That means it might be the ideal time to sign a new contract, which is expected to be finalised during the summer break at the latest.