By Alan Baldwin
BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Red Bull boss Christian Horner responded on Friday to speculation that Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton could become Formula One team mates by saying he had yet to hear from Mercedes’ five times world champion.
The ‘Silly Season’ gossip has been about whether Mercedes might make a move for Red Bull’s 21-year-old Dutch driver to replace out-of-contract Finn Valtteri Bottas for 2020.
While Verstappen has a Red Bull deal to the end of 2020, performance get-out clauses may apply.
Asked whether Mercedes boss Toto Wolff had approached Red Bull about Verstappen, and whether it would be good for the sport to have both in the same team, Horner smiled.
“Toto has certainly not spoken to me about it,” he said.
“He speaks to almost every driver on the grid, so I would think if he has had a conversation it’s been direct and not through the team.
“The situation with Max is clear and as with other drivers there are always trigger points. But in terms of having those two in one team, I haven’t heard from Lewis either that he wants to join (Red Bull) next year.”
Hamilton, who gets on well with Bottas, said he would have no problem in measuring up to Verstappen.
“I see stories saying we have different cars, so that’s the only way (I am winning), so it gives me an opportunity to show that’s not the case,” the Briton said.
Hamilton’s former team mate and 2016 champion Nico Rosberg, now an occasional pundit for Sky television, said in Germany last weekend that Verstappen would be the championship leader if he was in a Mercedes.
Verstappen is the sport’s in-form driver at the moment, winner of two of the last three races and a contender for another victory in Hungary on Sunday.
The Dutchman, third overall and 22 points behind Bottas, has finished his last 20 races in the top five. Hamilton and Verstappen have won the last seven races between them.
While the prospect of the pair duelling as team mates might end a few arguments about who is quickest, Horner suggested it would be best to keep them apart.
“I think that ideally we want to see teams going head to head and the drivers are obviously very much part of that team,” he said.
“It would be great to see Ferrari with their drivers, Red Bull with our drivers and Mercedes with their drivers all fighting it out, and whoever else can get up there as well.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that (those) two drivers have to be in the same team.”
Verstappen, now a veteran despite his young age with 92 starts since his debut in 2015, gave a typically blunt response to the question of whether he was now, as Horner has suggested, Formula One’s best driver.
“I don’t say any of those things. I also don’t care,” he said. “I think for me what is the most important is that I just perform on track.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)