Where it leaves team-mate Sebastian Vettel is another question. Twelve months ago, the four-time world champion was a clear number one at Ferrari. But after a calamitous 2019, Vettel’s future at Ferrari, and in F1 at any team, is now impenetrably cloudy.
And what of Verstappen, whose new deal should keep him at Red Bull until the end of 2023? Coulthard finished his F1 driving career at Red Bull and remains on close terms with the team, but admits: “I didn’t know at all.”
“Clearly, like everyone else, Red Bull holds him in high esteem. We all knew they were looking to extend the relationship, and understandably so,” he says. “More significantly, it shows the confidence and belief Max, his father and his management have in Red Bull. As much as any of us can’t know what the future holds, they feel that there is a momentum within the Red Bull-Honda partnership which allows them to feel this is the team to commit to.”
That’s why Verstappen’s new deal is something more of a surprise than Leclerc’s. Red Bull enjoyed a good 2019 season, with Verstappen winning three times, ending the season on a high and finishing a career-best third in the championship. But his team fell a long way short of challenging Mercedes-AMG for the world title. For that reason and given his burning ambition and clear potential, there seemed to be a growing case for Verstappen to seek a move to the Silver Arrows for 2021, potentially alongside or even in place of Lewis Hamilton.
Now, instead of courting a drive with the team that has won six consecutive titles in this turbo hybrid era, Verstappen has placed all his chips on Red Bull and Honda coming good when the new technical regulations kick in for next season. Then again, perhaps he hasn’t.
“Like all these top contracts, I’m sure there will be clauses that if Ferrari don’t deliver for whatever reason Charles will become a free agent, and likewise with Max,” says Coulthard. “It’s great to see multi-year contracts being announced, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the drivers will stay for the duration of their terms.”