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One Max Verstappen Contract Detail Could Shake Up Formula 1’s Future

After Red Bull’s phenom became the 2021 world champion, he was handed a long-term contract with F1’s highest salary ever, but one particular clause in the deal could carry an even bigger impact.

After Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen won his first Formula 1 Driver’s Championship in thrilling fashion last year, he was rewarded a new contract that included the highest salary in the history of the sport. The deal spans at least four years — multiple sources contend it runs through the 2027 season — at a massive $53.3 million per year.

Based on a preponderance of reporting, that’s a higher average salary than seven-time world champion rival Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes.

But there’s always a catch, and right on cue, there’s an intriguing wrinkle in this record-breaking Max Verstappen contract. There’s an escape clause in the 24-year-old’s deal that could permit him to leave Red Bull early, keying a seismic shift in the F1 landscape as a result.

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Red Bull Racing advisor and consultant Helmut Marko, gave an interview to German publication Formel1.de on Friday suggesting that Verstappen could opt out and hit the open market if the team stops performing well over the course of his deal:

“If Red Bull experiences a kind of ‘crash’, just like in 2014, then there is, of course, an escape clause,” Marko said, as translated from German, alluding to when the team lost significant ground in the annual standings due to Mercedes’ initial rise as both a constructor and engine manufacturer.

With the caveat that Marko’s words would need to be taken literally, an “escape clause” is exactly what it sounds like — free agency come early.

Max Verstappen clinched the 2021 Formula 1 world championship at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Notably, Marko’s remarks come as Volkswagen has given permission to subsidiaries Porsche and Audi to look into getting into Formula 1 as a chassis constructor and engine manufacturer, which could be quite appealing to a Red Bull team currently branding its own engine built on a base of Honda technology.

“Max is an important link in the chess game. It is not surprising that manufacturers take this into account,” Marko said. “It makes sense that we are the most attractive partner for manufacturers.”

Verstappen is the single biggest reason why Red Bull is so attractive to Porsche and Audi. It only makes sense that if Red Bull somehow stops being able to compete for titles — a big if, to be clear — that Verstappen would want to protect himself by potentially jumping ship to a team with a superior car.

In the meantime, after both Red Bull drivers (Verstappen and Sergio Perez) were unable to finish 2022’s season-opening race at Abu Dhabi due to technical failures, Verstappen won the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on March 27 and carries momentum into this weekend’s race in Australia.