Max Verstappen has insisted it is too soon for him to be thinking about replacing Sir Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next year.
The Dutchman was quizzed on the subject the day after Red Bull’s shakedown test of the RB16B at Silverstone, where he and his new team-mate Sergio Perez drove the car on track for the first time.
Potentially, both Mercedes seats for 2022 could be available with Hamilton having signed only a new one-year deal and Valtteri Bottas also understood to be contracted just for 2021 at this stage.
A total of five drivers are reported to be on the World Champions’ short-list for the future, the other three being George Russell, Esteban Ocon and Verstappen.
The 23-year-old Red Bull driver has a performance clause in his current contract which says if the team cannot provide him with a car to challenge for the World Championship this season, he can walk away for free at the end of the year – and if that did happen, it would almost certainly be to Mercedes.
But with the new Red Bull having run only the permitted 100km allowed on a filming day so far, Verstappen says such thoughts are not in his head with another two weeks to go before pre-season testing in Bahrain.
— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) February 24, 2021
“At the end of the day, I don’t know what Lewis is going to do,” said Verstappen, quoted by Crash.net, referring to whether Hamilton may retire at the end of this year.
“I’m just focused on myself and focused on this year and trying to make that a success. So early in the season with basically just a shakedown, I’m not thinking about those sort of things at this stage.”
Another factor Verstappen needs to weigh up when considering his F1 future is Red Bull’s decision to set up their own engine operation, with Honda pulling out of the sport at the end of 2021.
Asked whether that is a significant factor in the process, Verstappen said: “No, it doesn’t change anything for me.
“It’s exciting, but at the same time I’m not too focused on it at the moment. We are living in the moment, trying to have a good season first of all this year and the smart people in the background will handle those kind of things with the engine.
“It’s of course very important that it happened and that it was signed off. But that’s it. I’m very relaxed, very calm. I just want to focus on this year. That’s for me very important. It’s nice to have in the background that it’s sorted.”