Max Verstappen will not be offered a bumper pay rise by Red Bull as the team is already “close to the limit” with his current salary, according to the team’s advisor and head of young driver development Helmut Marko.
The 24-year-old Dutchman won his maiden Formula 1 world championship at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December with a last lap overtake on Lewis Hamilton, following a sensational battle between the pair one of the greatest seasons in the history of the sport. The victory did not come without controversy, though, as FIA Race Director Michael Masi’s unprecedented handling of a late safety car period caused by Williams Nicholas Latifi essentially gifted the title to Verstappen.
Now, Red Bull is keen to tie their star man down to a new long-term deal, with his current contract set to expire at the end of the 2023 season. Hamilton will be almost 39 by the time that campaign comes to a close, and Red Bull will be keen to ensure Mercedes are unable to even consider an approach for Verstappen by locking him into a multi-year deal as quickly as possible.
Marko gave an update on the progress of talks to Austrian magazine Autorevue, saying that concrete discussions are planned for just prior to the beginning of the new season. “We will be holding talks with Max in the next few weeks,” he said. “His manager [Raymond Vermeulen] was difficult to talk to because his son was at the 24-hour race in Dubai together with Jos [Verstappen].”
A significant pay increase is not on the cards, though, with Marko commenting that Red Bull is already paying Verstappen close to the maximum it can afford. He said: “With Verstappen, we’re already close to the limit. At some point, that’s the end.”
A move to Mercedes is an unlikely scenario, Marko believes, in part because of Verstappen’s anger towards the Silver Arrows after Hamilton hit him out of the race at Copse corner at Silverstone last year, and because of his long-term belief in the Red Bull project.
“I don’t think Max will go there,” he added. “I believe that the events at Silverstone made him less inclined to change sides. “Even though we saw that we certainly weren’t going to win a world championship with the Renault engine, he stood by the team. We always told him openly what our plans were when we started working with Honda. He is also informed about other developments. That’s why I believe his statements that he feels very comfortable with us.”
The new Formula 1 season kicks off with the Bahrain Grand Prix on the weekend of 18 March. Hamilton’s participation is still uncertain, as he stays silent following the furore over the Abu Dhabi finale.