Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has set a charm offensive to overdrive as he wards off covetous glances from Mercedes and Ferrari for young starlet Max Verstappen.
Red Bull is seen at the forefront to a future challenge to Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel at the top of the Formula 1 rankings, with team-mates Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo seen as arguably the best team pairing on the grid.
Still only 20, and in only his third Grand Prix season, Verstappen secured his first win in 16 starts this season at Malaysia with a close second to Hamilton in Japan last week.
But Horner faces a fight to retain the services of the Dutchman, with Verstappen contractually tied to Red Bull only until the end of the 2018 season.
Horner’s opening gambit to persuade Verstappen to extend his stay at Red Bull until 2020 is to suggest a team could be built around him at the Milton Keynes outfit, rather than play second fiddle to Hamilton and Vettel at Mercedes and Ferrari.
“I think he can see the strength and depth of the team,” Horner told Motorsport.com. “He feels comfortable in the team. He’s the youngest grand prix winner, he’s the youngest double winner, he’s the youngest points scorer," Horner told Motorsport.
“Lewis is pretty set at Mercedes, Seb has signed for three years at Ferrari. The obvious thing is to build a team around you. But it’s down to us to provide him with a competitive car.”
After winning the Spanish Grand Prix on his Red Bull debut at the age of just 18, Verstappen went onto achieve four podiums in his first eight races. But he currently lies sixth in this year’s drivers’ championships, enduring frustration upon frustration in the form of seven retirements.
“There were so many races this year when he was in a fantastic position to achieve big results,” Horner added.
“He’s had four mechanical issues, all engine problems. If you look at the points lost, he should be sitting a pretty close third in the championship at the moment.”
And in Horner’s estimation, Verstappen can only get better with experience.
"I think he’s growing in all areas. He has so little experience in car racing per se that every weekend he’s learning and getting stronger.
“There’s no shortcut to experience. He’s now close to completing his third grand prix season, and you look at the level he’s performing at, it’s phenomenal, and what’s exciting is what the future holds for him.”