Sir Lewis Hamilton’s new deal with the Mercedes F1 Team is “worrying news” for Red Bull, according to renowned British motorsport journalist Mark Hughes.
While news of Hamilton finally signing a contract extension with the Silver Arrows was hardly a surprise, the fact that it only covers the 2021 season did raise some eyebrows.
This has prompted speculation that the Brit may well decide to retire at the end of 2021, potentially paving the way for Max Verstappen to join Mercedes.
“Hamilton’s short-term deal has to be worrying news for Red Bull, especially if there is a break clause in Verstappen’s contract relating to whether the team has a manufacturer engine partner,” Hughes wrote in an article for The Race.
Continuing, Hughes noted that “there has been a friendly relationship between Mercedes and Verstappen stretching back to even before he made his F1 debut.
“Toto Wolff has maintained a good dialogue with the Verstappens ever since, sometimes to the irritation of Red Bull’s Christian Horner,” he added.
The British journalist then went on to describe Verstappen as the “most obvious replacement” for Hamilton at Mercedes.
And, with George Russell being strongly linked with a move to the Silver Arrows in 2022, Hughes believes Mercedes could have an all-new driver line-up next year.
“The prospect of Hamilton retiring from driving duties at the end of this year, having achieved a record-breaking eighth title, is not so difficult to envision.
“If that comes to pass, Verstappen would be the most obvious replacement. If Mercedes then maintains its superiority into the new aero regulations then F1 might simply replace the Hamilton era with a Verstappen era.
“After his sensational stand-in performance at Sakhir, which just rubber-stamped the regard in which Mercedes holds him, it would seem obvious that Russell will be promoted in ’22,” Hughes continued.
“So an all-new Verstappen-Russell line-up at Mercedes from ’22? It’s more than feasible. In which case, could Russell prevent the new era being a Verstappen one and make it instead Verstappen-Russell?
“He’s met every challenge thrown at him so far. Who’s to say he wouldn’t be up to that one? The dynamic quality such an exciting idea lends to F1’s prospects just underlines how predictable it has become in the Hamilton era.
“Or… in the unlikely event Verstappen’s contract doesn’t have that manufacturer engine break clause and he genuinely is committed to Red Bull until the end of ’23, then the whole world conceivably opens up for Russell.”