Lewis Hamilton’s likely Mercedes replacement has been identified by Red Bull chief Christian Horner as he made an admission about the team’s contract clauses.
The seven-time F1 champion has signed on for another year with the German manufacturer following weeks of negotiations over the £40m deal.
But talk has already turned to what the 36-year-old will do after that as a space is expected to open up with the team for 2022.
And Horner, who has been running the Red Bull team for 16 years, believes one of his own will take up the wheel at Mercedes.
Speaking at an event announcing the manufacturer’s decisions to make their own engines for the 2021 season, the Brit said: “I am sure should Lewis decide to stop then Max [Verstappen] will naturally be the driver at the top of Mercedes' list.
“They also have George Russell and other drivers available to them.”
Verstappen has been with Red Bull for the last five years, finishing best of the rest behind Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes for the last two years.
And the team chief revealed that the workings of the 23-year-old’s contract would be appealing to Toto Wolff if he needs to find a Hamilton replacement.
Horner added: “The reality is, that yes of course – as there has always been – an element of performance-related clauses to Max's contract.
“But as with all these things, it is not about forcing a driver that doesn't want to be there.
“It is more about relationships than contracts, and you only pull a contract out of the drawer when you have got a problem in my experience.
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“The relationship with Max is very strong, he believes in the project, in what we are doing, and he sees the investment Red Bull is making.
“I am confident we won't need to refer to any contractual clauses. It will be down to us to deliver a competitive car.”
Russell, as Horner said, has also been in contention following an impressive stand-in race for Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix last season.
And Mercedes have reportedly already identified the young Brit as a successor to the 36-year-old.
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