Max Verstappen and George Russell have been tipped to jump ship to Mercedes for the 2022 season in what has been described as “the obvious conclusion” by McLaren CEO Zak Brown.
Mercedes currently has the longest-serving driver partnership on the grid, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas beginning their fifth season together.
But with the new sweeping regulations coming in next season set to refresh the field, Mercedes are expected to look to the future and change up one, if not both of their drivers.
Bottas is the obvious name who they will look to replace first, but a lot too will depend on Lewis Hamilton and whether he decides to retire should he claim a record eighth world championship this season.
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Russell, who has impressed in a struggling Williams team, is a Mercedes young driver and tipped to graduate to the full team sooner rather than later, while Verstappen may be wondering if he is missing out on his best years if Red Bull cannot give him a car to win the title this year.
And McLaren CEO Brown, who has recently recruited Aussie driver Daniel Ricciardo to his stable for the next three years, believes the two youngsters are the duo Mercedes chief Toto Wolff will be eyeing up next.
“I think you will see Max [Verstappen] and George [Russell] there in 2022. I think that is the obvious conclusion,” he told the Daily Mail.
“You have Max’s experience and youth, you have George’s youth. If I am Mercedes, that’s a pretty killer line-up for the next five years.”
However, when asked to clarify his comments two days later – in a press conference sitting next to Red Bull and Mercedes team principles Christian Horner and Wolff no less – Brown attempted to back track somewhat.
“I don’t necessarily think it [will happen],” he added. “Someone just asked me, ‘What do you think the driver market will look like next year?’
“I believe George is out of contract and obviously has a Mercedes relationship and did a great job here in Bahrain [at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, when he replaced Hamilton at Mercedes].
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“Max, I’ve never seen his contract but I understand that there’s probably a possibility for him to drive elsewhere, and Mercedes and Toto are able to attract an awesome driver line-up. So, if those two guys are floating around, depending on what Toto decides with his current driver line-up, you could see that happening. I was asked the question – it wasn’t a prediction, it was an opinion.”
Horner added that it was “a bit early for speculation”, saying: “Maybe they’re as likely to run Daniel and Lando [Norris]! We’re at the first race, and we are obviously acutely aware of what the contracts with our drivers are.”
Wolff said that Mercedes would look at its driver line-up ahead of next year but insisted they wouldn’t leave it as late as January, like for this season.
“Obviously for next year, there’s lots of balls in the air and we will always try to do the best for the team long-term while also giving total loyalty to our current driver line-up. We are not doubting either Valtteri or Lewis but discussions obviously are going to happen – but not in January next year.”