Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has revealed that re-signing Max Verstappen was in part to prevent Mercedes from poaching him.
It removes the Dutchman from the driver market at a time when a number of leading drivers are due for renewal.
Those contracts coincide with a dramatic change in Formula 1’s technical regulations next season, with suggestions linking Hamilton with a move to Ferrari, with Vettel retiring.
That would open a seat at Mercedes, which has proved the dominant force in the sport for the last six seasons.
“We had a hard time guessing what the story is between Ferrari and Hamilton,” Marko admitted to German publication Auto Motor und Sport.
“But it is also clear that Mercedes must act if Hamilton goes to Ferrari in 2021.
“Max would have been the number one target.
“That was a very important step for us,” he added.
“Now we can look to the future with more confidence.”
Key to Verstappen’s re-signing was the influence of Honda, which has made solid progress since switching from McLaren to Toro Rosso in 2018 and the senior Red Bull squad last year.
“Over there years I have been with the team I have grown more and more,” said Verstappen.
“The progress we’ve made in the past 12 months since the arrival of Honda has further increased my motivation.
“I firmly believe that we can win together.
“We want to become world champions together. All sides do their utmost to achieve this.”
Marko too is enthused by what he’s seen from Honda, which has already run its 2020 engine on the test bench ahead of pre-season testing.
“If the others want to be even better there, they would have to grow dramatically,” Marko said.
“Max knows what’s going on at Honda, he has already seen the new car and he values the continuity in the team.
“In the end there was a common desire from him and us.”