Max Verstappen turned himself into Formula One’s most-wanted man with victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Ferrari and Mercedes will harden up their interest in the Dutchman — who turned just 20 on Saturday — by making him an offer to become one of the richest drivers in the sport’s history with a £20million-a-year contract.
Jos Verstappen, Max’s father and former Benetton F1 driver, is desperate to move his son from Red Bull to one of the sport’s most historic and best-funded teams.
Ferrari have the history and glamour but Mercedes have the pulling power of four consecutive world championships and the backing of the giant Daimler-Benz corporation.
Jos is a personal friend, too, of Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes Motorsport, who appears to have made his intentions clear by placing Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate, on a one-year contract next season. That would pave the way for Verstappen to move in.
Ferrari will not give up hope, though, and will make an offer when Verstappen’s Red Bull contract runs out next year, despite the likely opposition of Sebastian Vettel, whose relationship with Red Bull’s tyro is strained after a series of on-track incidents.
After winning four world championships with Red Bull, Vettel wants to emulate Michael Schumacher, his countryman and mentor, by becoming a legend in red. With this championship in danger of slipping through his fingers, Ferrari feel that Verstappen is closer to the Schumacher mould with his fearless style.
Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, faces a struggle to hang onto the driver he brought into his squad as a teenager. “We have some things to prove to Max that we are still the best team for him,” Horner told Standard Sport. “We gave him his big break and he took it by winning his first race with us and now he has this brilliant win.”