Mercedes seat for Max Verstappen leaves George Russell in ‘jeopardy’ – Ralf Schumacher

Oliver Harden
Max Verstappen smiles in conversation with George Russell in parc ferme in Canada

If George Russell can't lead Mercedes into life after Lewis, could Max Verstappen?

George Russell could find himself “in jeopardy” at Mercedes if Max Verstappen decides to leave Red Bull, with Toto Wolff likely to pounce on any opportunity to sign the reigning F1 World Champion.

That is the opinion of former F1 driver Ralf Schumacher, who believes Mercedes “urgently need” an established winner of Verstappen’s stature to lead the team back to the front after Lewis Hamilton leaves for Ferrari.

Could Max Verstappen interest leave George Russell vulnerable at Mercedes?

Despite winning 50 of the last 75 races, and holding a contract until the end of the F1 2028, rumours have persisted that Verstappen could opt to walk away from Red Bull – potentially as soon as this year – amid the off-track disruption engulfing the team.

With the likes of Ferrari and McLaren having already locked in their driver lineups for F1 2025, Mercedes – who are yet to announce Hamilton’s successor – would almost certainly be Verstappen’s only option should he leave his current employers.

PlanetF1.com revealed ahead of last month’s Monaco Grand Prix that Mercedes have closed the door on a potential leading candidate in Carlos Sainz, now thought to be on the verge of joining Williams from Ferrari – as they monitor Verstappen’s situation at Red Bull.

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If Verstappen is unattainable for next season, it is believed that Mercedes are prepared to promote teenage sensation Andrea Kimi Antonelli alongside Russell for F1 2025.

Yet with Mercedes tipped to ace the F1 2026 rules, having emerged as F1’s dominant force following the sweeping engine regulation changes in 2014, Verstappen could be persuaded to join the team ahead of the sport’s new era.

Speaking to Sky Germany, Schumacher – who claimed six wins in 180 grand prix starts between 1997 and 2007 – claimed “now is the perfect time” for Mercedes to give Antonelli vital F1 experience.

And with rumours that “contractual agreements” are already in place for Antonelli, he fears Russell could become vulnerable if Verstappen suddenly decides to leave Red Bull.

He said: “From Toto Wolff’s point of view, Kimi Antonelli deserves the chance and there are apparently contractual agreements in place.

“It doesn’t say which team it has to be with – but because Williams is spoken for, I assume that it will be with Mercedes.

“Wolff himself has said that he wants to focus on the future. Now is the perfect time.

“Mercedes is in a state of uplift again and had an excellent race in Canada. This is the ideal time for Antonelli to warm up.

“If Max Verstappen really decides to leave Red Bull, I can imagine that there will be a seat for him at Mercedes.

“Then it could be rather bad for George Russell.

“He is – or was – a super talent, but he also makes a lot of mistakes.

“If a World Champion is then on the market, I can imagine that George Russell’s job could also be in jeopardy.”

Schumacher’s comments come after an error-strewn race for Russell in Canada, where the British driver dropped to third in changeable conditions after claiming his second career pole position at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Russell – who claimed Mercedes’ only win of the last two-and-a-half years at Brazil 2022 – cut a downbeat figure at the end of the race, admitting that he felt he had “let the team down a bit” with a series of mistakes.

Schumacher reckons Verstappen would have got the win over the line for Mercedes in Canada, highlighting how an elite driver can make a “big difference” to a team.

And he believes the Dutchman would establish a healthy and productive relationship with Wolff despite Mercedes’ bitter rivalry with Red Bull over the course of the infamous 2021 season.

He said: “Mercedes would have won the race in Canada with Max Verstappen – a clear case.

“Max is the driver who makes the big difference. Mercedes has had a long dry spell and urgently needs a World Champion to get back to the front.

“Verstappen is also a guy who comes across as very conservative, pleasant and sporty.

“Accordingly, I could imagine that Toto Wolff and Mercedes would do a lot with him and do a lot for him.”

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