How Close Max Verstappen Came to Driving for Mercedes F1

Published 12/23/2021, 5:46 AM EST
Formula One F1 – Belgian Grand Prix – Spa-Francorchamps, Spa, Belgium – August 29, 2021 Red Bull’s Max Verstappen celebrates his first place on the podium REUTERS/Christian Hartmann


More often than not, in Formula 1, when one looks at a driver and his growth, it’s easy to point out who is championship material. Whether it was Lewis Hamilton, Ayrton Senna, or even Sebastian Vettel, the greatness often shines early- in their careers in karting. It’s no surprise that the same can be said for F1’s most recent champion, Max Verstappen.

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What does come as a surprise, however, was that it was Mercedes that first identified this prowess.

In a recent Dutch documentary on the driver, his father Jos Verstappen described the discussions Verstappen had with Mercedes in Formula 3. “Niki Lauda wanted to bring Max to Mercedes. I remember that as soon as we left the Red Bull camper after a meeting, we found it in front of us.” 

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Formula One F1 – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – December 12, 2021 Red Bull’s Max Verstappen celebrates winning the race and the world championship with team principal Christian Horner REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

However, Christian Horner had found his next Golden Boy in the driver, thus, he was the one who’d finally convinced Max to find his future with Red Bull.

Verstappen will remain the youngest driver in F1, having started his career at the age of 17. Such was the talent in the young Dutchman who began dealing with the big names very early on. Helmut Marko divulged what attracted Red Bull to Verstappen.

“Max was fifteen years old during that conversation, but my main conclusion was: there is a very young body there, but someone whose mind is already at least three to five years further. He seemed even more mature to me than many drivers of eighteen.”

How Red Bull kept Max Verstappen from Mercedes

Marko is known for his keen eye for talent. According to him, watching Max drive in F3, at 15, was a deciding moment for the team. “The Formula 3 races at the Norisring have been decisive… I saw someone who was mentally and physically ready for Formula 1 and immediately. His age was only an afterthought.”

Verstappen’s F3 career was exceptional. He left the series with ten victories in hand and thus became the talk of the drivers’ market in 2014. Therefore, Mercedes had their eyes on Verstappen.

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Marko revealed why that deal fell through. “Max certainly wouldn’t have gotten into Formula 1 so quickly at Mercedes. They weren’t willing to take a lot of risk with a newcomer and we were.” This rings true as Red Bull was quick to put Max into their junior team of Toro Rosso in 2015. Ever since, Verstappen has been unstoppable.

However, Red Bull’s move wasn’t to outdo their rivals. Instead, it was a move of surety. Marko said, “It was mainly because I was one hundred percent convinced that Max was ready for Formula 1.”

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Thus, Milton Keynes had its star player, a ferocious Dutch Lion, in their monocoque. Will Mercedes look back on the opportunity missed? Probably not; yet Verstappen’s roars remain loud enough to remind them of what they could have had. Till then, it’s celebrations at Red Bull Racing.

Watch this story: Top 5 wins of Max Verstappen’s F1 career

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Shreya Sanjeev

779 articles

Shreya Sanjeev is an F1 author at EssentiallySports. Having attained a journalism degree from St Xavier's College, she finds comfort in the sound of her keyboard while typing and excitement in the sound of F1 cars speeding on a track. A street circuit and Daniel Ricciardo fan through and through, Shreya claims the 2018 Monaco GP to be one of her favorite races of all time.

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