Charles Leclerc said he “still has a lot to learn” from Sebastian Vettel when he visited the UK earlier this month. The 22-year-old has a new deal to stay at Ferrari until the end of 2024, one that presumably will make him an immensely wealthy man. But he remains genuinely humble in his approach to superstardom in Formula 1 and, according to those who know him best, that’s unlikely to change.
Spiky and irreverent Max Verstappen is something of a contrast. The Dutchman, also 22, is heading into his sixth F1 season with his own newly minted contract that should keep him at Red Bull until the end of 2023. I say ‘should’, because such contracts always tend to include performance clauses that allow drivers to walk away if teams fail to deliver on competitive parameters. As in football, contract terms aren’t always seen through to their originally specified end.
Still, Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s moves to tie down their young aces so early in the new year can only be viewed as masterstrokes. At least one seat, possibly two, depending on Lewis Hamilton’s intentions beyond this year, could be available at Mercedes-AMG for the 2021 season – and speculation surrounding Verstappen in particular was swirling. The new deals nip such talk in the bud, secure the teams the most exciting ‘new-gen’ talents on the grid and save them all from a lot of distraction.
Nobody saw these deals coming so early, and given Mercedes’ title dominance in this hybrid era, both suggest a great deal of faith in Ferrari and Red Bull from their drivers. All-new chassis technical rules come into play next year, offering a golden opportunity for a shake-up in the competitive order, while Verstappen’s decision hints that he must have some guarantee that engine supplier Honda is in it for the long haul – although car makers can never be fully trusted when it comes to F1. As I’ve said before, it’s a budget line that’s all too easily cut.
For now, Verstappen and Leclerc have taken much of the wind out of the ‘silly season’, but there might still be further gusts in the months ahead. Vettel’s future is in even greater doubt, despite Leclerc’s personal respect for the four-time champion – and the new deal doesn’t necessarily end Hamilton’s flirtation with Ferrari. At 35, taking on a young firebrand in a new team would be tough – but with Hamilton, you never know. Stick or twist, Lewis?