Mercedes urged to poach Max Verstappen as long-term Lewis Hamilton replacement

Thomas Maher
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen on the grid. Bahrain February 2023.

Max Verstappen walks past Lewis Hamilton as the drivers do media promotion work on the grid. Bahrain February 2023.

Former F1 and Le Mans racer David Kennedy believes Mercedes should stump up some cash and try wrangling Max Verstappen away from Red Bull.

While Verstappen is on a long-term deal with Red Bull until 2028, Mercedes should be doing everything in their power to attract either him or Charles Leclerc as a long-term replacement for Lewis Hamilton.

While Hamilton is without a contract at Mercedes for 2024, the British driver is expected to put pen to paper on a new contract with the Brackley-based team.

However, with Hamilton set to turn 40 in January 2025, the seven-time World Champion is much closer to the end of his career than the start, although he’s made it clear he’s still interested in racing in the sport for another few years.

Max Verstappen still has his “absolute raw speed”

Kennedy, who drove for Shadow and Theodore in F1 before a long career with Mazda in sportscars throughout the 1980s, believes the raw pace advantage younger drivers like Verstappen and Leclerc have makes them better prospective signings for Mercedes as the team consider their long-term future.

“You’re looking at the three elements of a driver: you’re looking at his ability to be able to extract the best from the team and the car,” he told PlanetF1.com in an exclusive interview.

“It’s probably not as important as it used to be as the engineers do the vast majority of that now.”

Kennedy reiterated his suggestion that, as an elder statesman of the sport, like Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton no longer has the same outright single-lap pace he would have had as a younger man.

“The second element will be that absolute raw speed that you’ve got, which Hamilton had,” he said.

“And Verstappen has, and then you’ve got the race pace.

PlanetF1.com recommends

New Ferrari theory emerges with Red Bull speed leading to CEO interference

‘Aston Martin could have won Monaco with a quicker driver than Fernando Alonso’

“To lead a team, if you’re looking for next year, I’ve seen it over the years that after 35/36 and getting up in years, you just lose that small fraction of qualifying pace.

“Your race pace is nearly indistinguishable and you can take that with you going on well up in the years, but it’s that raw speed that you lose.

“We saw in Monaco that was the game changer that won the race for Verstappen.”

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc ‘best options for the future’

Kennedy suggested that Mercedes should consider opening up their chequebooks to try tempting Verstappen away from Red Bull. It’s an unlikely scenario any time soon, at least until 2026 when the new regulations come into play to threaten Red Bull’s competitiveness, particularly as Verstappen’s big-money contract at Red Bull would require an eye-watering sum be negotiated if Verstappen did seek to break contract.

“If I was Mercedes, I’d be putting down the money for Verstappen!” Kennedy posited.

“Hamilton will play out his career as an absolute front-runner but I think, like any driver and disparaging him in any way, at a certain age, you just lose that fraction. Lewis is in that zone.

“If you were a team that was building and growing, you couldn’t have a better driver. If it’s a team that’s chasing for a championship, he’s terrific, he’s fairly bulletproof.”

While Verstappen is an unlikely candidate for a Mercedes seat any time soon, Kennedy suggested that Mercedes could also look at Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc – the Monegasque is without contract for 2024. This coincides with the end of Hamilton’s Mercedes deal, but both parties have brushed aside recent rumours that a seat swap could be on the cards.

“If you want the best of the best for the future, I think you have to look at Charles [Leclerc] and Max Verstappen to build for the future,” Kennedy said.