Before the 2022 Formula 1 season began, Red Bull signed reigning world champion Max Verstappen to a five-year contract extension worth roughly $55 million per year, an extension that keeps the 24-year-old Dutchman with the Milton Keynes-based team through the 2028 season.
However, shortly after the season began, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko admitted that there is an “escape clause” in Verstappen’s new deal, which could be triggered if the team struggle to give him a car capable of winning more world titles.
Here is what Marko had to say about the matter.
“If Red Bull experiences a kind of ‘crash’, just like in 2014, then there is, of course, an escape clause.”
At the start of the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014, after four straight seasons of winning the constructor championship, as well as the driver championship with Sebastian Vettel, from 2010 to 2013, the team fell way behind Mercedes.
While they still finished in second place in the standings, they won only three races while Mercedes won 16. Then in 2015, they failed to win a race and finished in fourth.
Now in the start of the 2022 season following the introduction of new regulations, Red Bull clearly have a top two car, if not a 1B to Ferrari’s 1A.
But reliability has been a massive issue, and the lack of it leaves Verstappen in sixth place in the driver standings, already trailing Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by 46 points. To put this in perspective, if not for his two DNFs, Verstappen would be just 10 points behind Leclerc.
During his 2021 title-winning campaign, Verstappen was never any more than 14 points out of first place.
To open up the 2022 season in Bahrain, Verstappen was poised to finish in second place behind Leclerc, but a late fuel pump issue forced him to retire. The same issue struck teammate Sergio Perez on the final lap, causing him to retire as well.
In Jeddah, Verstappen and Leclerc had another epic battle, this time with the former coming out on top. But disaster struck Verstappen again in Melbourne, when another fuel-related issue caused him to retire from second place.
So through three races, Red Bull have just three results among their two drivers: Verstappen’s win in Jeddah, Perez’s fourth place finish in the race, and Perez’s runner-up result in Melbourne.
And a fix to these issues may not be in sight. Following the frustration of losing another second place finish in Melbourne, Verstappen admitted that he has “no reason to believe” he can defend his title in 2022.
As a result, talk about this “escape clause” in his contract has re-emerged. While Marko never revealed the details of it, surely a DNF rate of 66.7% — which has left Verstappen, even with a win, with a career-worst average finish of 12.7 — doesn’t exactly bode well for Red Bull.
And while surely three races is nowhere near enough of a sample size to trigger the clause, you have to believe that there is a sense of urgency in Milton Keynes to make these issues a thing of the past.