While many Red Bull employees were back firmly into work mode after the Christmas break, news emerged of their star man Max Verstappen penning a new long-term contract at Milton Keynes until 2023.
With his deal due to expire at the end of the season, the Dutchman had been earmarked as a potential replacement for Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, as the six-time world champion was being strongly linked with a switch to Ferrari.
But Verstappen’s fresh terms ends all speculation about Ferrari and Mercedes, questions that are asked to the 22-year-old at every race weekend.
His previous $10 million-per-year deal will surely rise by more millions, and this is thoroughly deserved for a young man expected to challenge Hamilton for the title in 2020.
His displays in the second half of last season, in particular, proved why he is considered the most exciting driver in Formula One and the man who could potentially threaten Hamilton’s dominance at the top.
Verstappen had arguably been one of the top two drivers of 2019, aside from the Briton, who recorded 11 wins in comparison to the Dutchman’s three victories, nine podium finishes, two pole positions and three fastest laps.
In a slower machine to the powerful Mercedes, Verstappen has extracted the maximum from his RB13 at every grand prix and is not afraid to get his elbows dirty when the going gets tough.
His richly deserved triumph in Brazil in November, when having to fend off Hamilton for large spells of the race, and capitalising on his second pole of the season, was sublime.
It was a 10 out of 10 performance for the Monaco resident who dominated all sessions throughout the weekend at Interlagos and again reaffirmed his status as a future world champion.
Given he is such an established name and one of the most popular drivers on the grid, it is easy to forget Verstappen is just 22.
The former Toro Rosso driver, who made his 102nd race start at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last month, is mature beyond his years and his aggression, confidence and superb race craft shows he has all the right tools to be a menace for years to come.
He finished in third place in the drivers’ championship with 278 points, the best result of his career so far, and showed there is plenty more to come in an improving car.
A relaxed figure, Verstappen has all the attributes necessary to clinch a world championship. Now, it’s a matter of Red Bull and Honda providing him with a first title winning car since Sebastian Vettel in 2013.
Honda was criticised during its three-year relationship with McLaren. However, the manufacturer enjoyed greater reliability in 2019, with Red Bull finishing third in the constructors’ standings on 417 points, 87 points behind Ferrari.
The team have some strides to make before the start of the 2020 season, and Verstappen remains confident the Honda-powered engine will allow them to close the gap on Mercedes again this season.
In a post confirming his contract extension, he said: “Honda coming on board and the progress we have made over the last 12 months gives me even more motivation and the belief that we can win together. I want to win with Red Bull and our goal is of course to fight for a World Championship together.”
With Charles Leclerc nailed on to stay at Ferrari, after signing an extension until 2024 last month, the young knights are settled and now focused on taking Hamilton’s crown.
At 35, Hamilton surely feels he still has a few years left in him – why bow out when you are ahead. But the gifted Verstappen will be looking at his next four season at Red Bull and firmly believing he can win titles in the blue colours.
It’s two months until the season kicks off in Melbourne, and a fast start and some positive early results will have Verstappen on an upward path for the year ahead.
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