Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Will Max Verstappen Follow Adrian Newey Out the Red Bull Door?

Red Bull Racing has put together perhaps the most-dominant dynasty in Formula 1 history.

Max Verstappen has won 38 races out of the 49 races contested since the start of the current regulations in 2022. And of the 11 races that Verstappen did not win, four of them were won by teammate Sergio Perez.

This season began with an allegation and a scandal surrounding team principal Christian Horner. After peaking at Saudi Arabia with Jos Verstappen outright calling for Horner to be relived of his position, the scandal had begun to fade into the background due to a lack of news surrounding it.

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That all changed this week, in which Auto Motor und Sport reported that car designer Adrian Newey has told the team he wants to move away from it due to the allegations. This report was later corroborated by multiple news sources, including the BBC and Sky Sports, who confirmed it with their own sources within the team and around the sport.

Newey leaving Red Bull is a gigantic blow. He’s generally considered the best car designer in F1 history, and he definitely is the best of the past 40 or so years. The legendary FW14, with its numerous technical advances such as active suspension and traction control, utterly dominated F1 in 1992.

Drivers champion Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese won 10 races that year, and between the both of them, only finished off the podium twice. Mansell in particular won nine of the races and never finished outside of the top 10. Newey then delivered another championship-winning car in 1993, luring Ayrton Senna to the team for an ultimately tragic 1994 season.

Newey ultimately won five constructor’s championships with Williams in the 1990s, another one with McLaren in 1998 and six since joining Red Bull in 2006. Mika Hakkinen also won the driver’s championship in 1999 and Verstappen in 2021 without securing the constructor’s titles.

Although the chances of Verstappen using an out clause to leave Red Bull are still relatively low, the loss of Newey absolutely increases the odds. It makes the reported Mercedes gambit of not signing anybody for 2025 in the hope of attracting Verstappen more viable.

As far as where Newey goes from here, he may have to go on gardening leave if he can’t get out of his Red Bull contract. If he can get out of it, I would put money on him going to Ferrari to work with Lewis Hamilton. He’s stated before he regretted not building a car for either in his career, and he can do both now.

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Aston Martin, funded by Lawrence Stroll, would also absolutely make an offer for Newey. Mr. Stroll has been willing to invest insane amounts of money into his race team to make the cars go fast. Due to F1 budget cap allowances that ignore the top-three staff salaries on a team, Mr. Stroll would be able to throw just a ridiculous amount of money at Newey to come over if he wants to.

With all of that being said, I think there are three separate scenarios forming that are all very viable for how Silly Season is about to go. While outlining them, I’m going to ignore teams that aren’t actually relevant to the discussion, such as Haas and Alpine, or teams that already have set driver lineups, such as Aston Martin, McLaren and Ferrari.

Scenario One: Verstappen stays at Red Bull

TeamDriverDriver
Red BullMax VerstappenSergio Perez/Carlos Sainz
MercedesGeorge RussellAndrea Kimi Antonelli
AudiNico HulkenbergSergio Perez/Carlos Sainz
WilliamsAlexander AlbonValtteri Bottas

This is the most likely scenario. Verstappen is still going to win almost every race this year and likely will do so again next year because teams are already working on those cars now. That would take him to around 90 career wins and five straight championships. It’s hard to imagine any driver saying no to that.

Dr. Helmut Marko made it clear last week that the big issue with Red Bull signing Sainz is money. If they can’t at least meet Sainz halfway on what Audi is offering, Sainz will go to Audi and Perez would stay put at Red Bull, because there’s nobody else in their system better than him now. If Sainz signs with Red Bull, Perez would become a very appetizing option for Audi as they get their bearings into Formula 1.

Bottas going back to Williams would just make sense as a solid hand that can drive until one of its Formula 2 juniors are ready to move up. Bottas realistically also doesn’t have any better options at this point.

Scenario Two: Verstappen leaves Red Bull before Sainz signs with Audi

TeamDriverDriver
Red BullSergio PerezCarlos Sainz
MercedesGeorge RussellMax Verstappen
AudiNico HulkenbergAny current Sauber or Alpine driver
WilliamsAlexander AlbonAndrea Kimi Antonelli
Under this scenario, Red Bull goes with a Perez-Sainz teaming while Mercedes sends teenager Antonelli down to Williams to spend a year or two before replacing Russell.

That second Audi seat would be wide open. According to F1 journalist Joe Saward’s Green Notebook, the team wants either Esteban Ocon or Pierre Gasly if they can’t land Sainz.

But it would also make sense if they want to stick with Zhou Guanyu in part because of sponsorship money he brings to the table or Theo Pourchaire as a driver Sauber has spent years developing. Bottas would be less likely than the other two, as I think Audi wants either a clear number-one driver like Sainz or a young driver to learn next to Hulkenberg in that seat.

Scenario Three: Verstappen leaves Red Bull after Sainz signs with Audi

TeamDriverDriver
Red BullSergio PerezAlexander Albon
MercedesGeorge RussellMax Verstappen
AudiNico HulkenbergCarlos Sainz
WilliamsValtteri BottasAndrea Kimi Antonelli
This really puts Red Bull in a rough spot. Albon is probably the best available driver they can go out and get, as I don’t think that Daniel Ricciardo would get the nod in his current form nor would the team want to move up Yuki Tsunoda.

Albon is a much different driver from his days at Red Bull and would match up well with Perez. Meanwhile, Williams goes with an all new driver lineup pairing veteran Bottas with teenager Antonelli.

This column’s premise was almost unthinkable as of a few months ago. And in some ways, it still is.

It needs to be stressed that Verstappen leaving Red Bull is unlikely. But Newey’s departure has turned the unthinkable into the unlikely. And if it were to happen, it would upend F1 for the next several years.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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