Max Verstappen’s signature on a Red Bull contract extension to the end of 2023 has neatly put in place the line-ups of the three top teams for the foreseeable future. Widely perceived as the king-in-waiting, with Lewis Hamilton preparing for his 14th Formula 1 season, Verstappen’s signing was crucial for Red Bull to remove him from Mercedes’ possible grasp as a long term Hamilton replacement. Even more so once Ferrari had taken Charles Leclerc off the market a couple of weeks earlier by announcing a five-year contract that takes him up to the end of 2024.
Outside of Hamilton, Verstappen and Leclerc, who else could Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull have slotted in as bona fide would-be champions over the next few seasons, given the right equipment? Daniel Ricciardo? Carlos Sainz Jr? Sure, and possibly a couple of others, too – but without the certainty and solid gold status of this trio who are primed to slog it out over the next few years. It’s a mouth-watering prospect and promises to be F1 box office.
What could derail the title fight?
This is the final season of Hamilton’s Mercedes contract, but will both parties continue in F1? The team has not yet committed to F1 post-2020, the contracts of both its race drivers run only to the end of this year, and its long- term third driver Esteban Ocon has been released to Renault for now.