In 2016, after just four races, Red Bull made the call to drop Daniil Kvyat from the senior race seat and put Max Verstappen in the car.
It was a decision, Christian Horner admits, that was made to “cement Max’s long-term future” with the team at a time when rumours were already linking him to rivals such as Mercedes.
Verstappen made his Formula 1 debut in 2015, the teenager placed with Toro Rosso – the youngest driver to start a race.
While Verstappen time and time again showed why he had been handed an F1 race seat despite his tender age, over at Red Bull, Kvyat was taking the fight to his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, out-scoring him by three points in the Drivers’ Championship.
That, though, was not enough to save Kvyat when it went a bit wrong at the start of the 2016 season.
While Verstappen scored in three of his four races with Toro Rosso, Kvyat managed two top-10s, one of which was a podium, before a nightmare Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix sealed his fate and brought about the end of his time at Red Bull.
Many pundits felt at the time it was a harsh decision given Kvyat had finished P3 in one of the two races in which he scored, with speculation it was more do with wanting to ensure Verstappen, billed by many as a future World Champion, would commit to the team long-term.
Horner recently admitted to Sky F1 there was more to it than Kvyat’s performances.
“It was a set of circumstances that played out and we wanted to cement Max’s long-term future,” he revealed.
“Danny Kvyat obviously had a difficult start to the year and we decided to make the switch.
“He (Max) had never driven the car, there was a quick seat fitting, find a set of overalls that fit and off you go.”
Verstappen immediately paid back Red Bull’s faith in him, winning on his debut at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Verstappen’s current contract with Red Bull runs until the end of the 2023 season, but that has done little to silence rumours Mercedes could come calling at the end of this season.
Horner is determined to hold on to his driver, who at this year’s Spanish GP contested his 100th race with the Milton Keynes squad.
Asked if another 100 awaited, the team boss said: “With the amount of races we do a year now, you could see another 200, I would think!
“The main thing for us is to provide him with a competitive car. We’ve done that this year and it’s all about winning.”
As for Verstappen, he says right now he is happy with the team.
“9 and a half, 10,” he said of his happiness metre. “I’m doing what I love, which is very fortunate.
“I’m really excited for the future. I think we already have a good base right now and it can only get better.”