A crumbling relationship: Red Bull and Max Verstappen

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Max Verstappen has had terrible luck in 2017: four retirements in eight races so far.

According to reports and rumors, one of the almighty questions surrounding the Formula 1 fraternity mid way through 2017 concerns the future of the sport’s brightest talent, Max Verstappen.

Formula 1 became a reality for the Dutch teenager in 2015 virtue of Red Bull’s extensive development program. Now having reached the top of the ladder with Red Bull Racing, their lack of success in 2017 has caused him to seek a drive out elsewhere.

This is a superb time to discuss the issue because tensions between Verstappen and Red Bull are thought to be at an all time low due to his consecutive mechanical failures from extremely good points paying positions in the recent Canadian and Azerbaijani Grand Prix’s.

Both were due to power unit problems and after each race Verstappen has been extremely vociferous and critical of the continued failures.

“I was gutted to be let down once again by a technical problem,” Verstappen admitted after Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was ruined by a sudden power unit failure on lap 13. It hadn’t just cost a race, but a potential podium or even race win considering just how the Grand Prix eventually panned out.

And Verstappen is rightfully angry; he’s suffered three reliability-related DNF’s in 2017. By comparison, team mate Daniel Ricciardo has only suffered two.

And although the difference isn’t major, Ricciardo was never looking particularly strong when he retired in Australia and Russia. Verstappen, by the contrary, was running in unexpected podium positions during all three of his failures this year.

Who’s actually saying he’ll leave?

So, the big question remains – is Red Bull’s constant reliability failures and lack of overall pace enough to send Verstappen away from the Quadruple World Champion team for 2018?

Firstly, everyone must understand the official rumor (that’s reportedly circling the paddock like a hungry hawk) isn’t just that Verstappen will leave Red Bull, it’s more that he’ll get himself a seat at either Mercedes or Ferrari.

The underlying point of leaving Red Bull is because they cannot offer Verstappen what every driver dreams of: a Formula 1 Drivers World Championship.

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Some thought the new 2017 technical regulations would give Red Bull an upper hand this season – but, so far at least, they’ve been unable to match the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes on pure pace.

Or at least, that’s what Sky Sports’ pit lane reporter, Ted Kravitz, is reporting to the world. He’s currently one of the main ‘insider sources’ on the issue. During a recent live video on Facebook, the characteristically comical journalist stated, “We hear that not only is he not happy but by extension [his father and former F1 driver] Jos is not happy.”

In this situation, Kravitz uses “we” as the word to loosely describe those who are within Formula 1’s prestigious paddock – in other words, the people who tend to hear almost every story to grace the sport.

Mercedes or Ferrari, is there actually a gap for Verstappen?

The problem with taking Verstappen out of Red Bull is where he’d end up. He only has two realistic options that are almost guaranteed to create the chance of winning a World Championship quicker than Red Bull: Ferrari and Mercedes.

Firstly, Mercedes is almost certainly a no go. Although reports indicate Valtteri Bottas only has a one year contract, Toto Wolff has a clear admiration for the Finnish driver after eight rounds of the 2017 season. Rather timely, he stated ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, “[Bottas] has exceeded even our expectations.”

But in the last week, supporters of the ‘Verstappen move’ have said he’ll actually replace Hamilton because the latter recently told the FIA’s magazine, Auto, “I can decide to stop at the end of this year.”

But people forget, as this story begun blowing up in the media ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix, Hamilton admitted to media, “I can’t even remember this interview.”

In essence, we shouldn’t consider the move to Mercedes because those two drivers are set in stone.

At Ferrari, an undeniable fact is it would be unusual for Sebastian Vettel to leave Ferrari right as they find championship-winning form for the first time in ten years, especially considering his prowess in 2017.

Kimi Raikkonen, on the other hand, is currently the oldest active Formula 1 driver at 37 and has been considerably outpaced by Vettel in 2017. Currently, the Finn, on 73 points, hasn’t even scored half of Vettel’s major 153 point haul.

Ironically, almost exactly one year ago, ahead of the 2016 British Grand Prix, Ferrari shocked most by appending another year to Raikkonen’s contract with the team. However, he was only given a year and subsequently that contract will be up for renewal in the coming months.

Will Verstappen ‘walk the walk or just talk the talk’?

Red Bull have been swift to deny the Verstappen switch rumor. Helmut Marko reportedly told German motoring website, Auto Bild, “If we do not release him, he cannot switch to Ferrari,” because there is no “performance clause” in his contract.

Simplistically speaking, a performance clause would allow Verstappen to rightfully leave the team due to the lack of form.

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In Azerbaijan, Christian Horner (left) swiftly defended claims Verstappen would leave for Ferrari.

But Christian Horner has reaffirmed Marko’s contract claims, admitting to Sky Sports during the Azerbaijan weekend, “The only driver who had a [performance] clause was Mr Vettel.”

Horner then summarized, “We’re very happy with the drivers and they just want to go quicker.”

And that’s the problem, Horner might be happy with his drivers, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy with him. Verstappen admitted to Dutch TV earlier in June, “I’m concerned about next year.”

“This year we wanted to go for the title but we’re far away from that,” Verstappen continued, coincidentally this was just after he lost a potential fight with Mercedes because of a race ending power unit failure in Canada.

With all of this talk, some have already predicted the move, including Sky Sports F1 pundit, Johnny Herbert.

“I am sure that Max and his father Jos will look around the stairs, if Red Bull does not manage to [produce championship winning cars]” he admitted.

This view was held as early as Russia – just after Verstappen’s disappointing brake failure in Bahrain.

So, we’ve put the facts in front of you – so tell us in your own words, will Max Verstappen leave Red Bull Racing at the end of 2017 to join Scuderia Ferrari or Mercedes-AMG.

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Steven Walton is a 18 year old student currently attending St Andrews College in Christchurch, New Zealand. He was bought up with two older brothers and his big passions are sports (especially motorsport), people and writing.

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