Russell welcomes Max Verstappen challenge at Mercedes

George Russell narrowly trails Hamilton in points across 2022 and 2023 (450pts to 474pts)

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George Russell has said he doesn’t fear Max Verstappen joining Mercedes, believing he can beat anyone on the grid and that he always wants to go up on the best following shock rumours that the Dutchman could quit Red Bull.

In the wake of the controversy surrounding Christian Horner it has been speculated that Verstappen could leave the defending world champions, meaning that one of the best drivers ever, in his prime, is suddenly on the market.

And Toto Wolff’s team currently have a vacant seat after Lewis Hamilton announced he will be joining Ferrari in 2025, one year prior to the conclusion of his contract. Wolff has been a long time admirer of Verstappen and regrets missing out on the chance to sign the three-time champion in 2014 when he was a youngster.

So now Wolff could finally get his man following meetings with Jos Verstappen, his father, and when asked about it afterwards, he said “anything is possible, but Russell isn’t afraid of going up against the 54-time race winner, who dominated the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix.

“This is my third season now alongside Lewis [Hamilton], the greatest driver of all time, and I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job along alongside him,” Russell said to media ahead of the 2024 Saudi Arabian GP. “So, whoever I were to line up alongside me next year, or the years to come, I welcome anybody, I welcome the challenge.

“You always want to go against the best but ultimately for me, I just focus on myself. I believe in myself. I believe I can be anybody on the grid and you’ve just got to have that mentality.”

Verstappen’s Red Bull exit clause

Verstappen has been close to Helmut Marko since his time as a teenager, when the Austrian brought him onboard into the Red Bull family back in 2014. Marko is someone the Dutchman is fiercely loyal to, perhaps more than anyone except his own dad.

So in order to protect the senior Red Bull figure from any unfair treatment, he is rumored by F1Insider.com to have an exit clause written into his 2028 contract outlining that if Marko leaves the same then Verstappen can instantly do so too.

This is particularly significant as the current tension within the team appears to be connected to a power struggle, rather than an issue of performance, with the Horner controversy thought to be a manifestation of the aforementioned struggle between senior Red Bull figures.

Although the figures have not been named, tensions between Marko and Horner have been apparent following the death of Dietrich Mateschitz, the Red Bull founder, in 2022. Notably, Sergio Perez has proven to be a divisive discussion point.

With Red Bull thought to be on the cusp of an exodus of critical personnel as the board plans to back Horner through this situation, Marko could quit and, in turn, release Verstappen to seek out any team he likes.

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