Honda retreat could open the door to Verstappen exit

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Honda's decision to withdraw from Formula 1 may imply that Max Verstappen will be a free agent at the end of the 2021 season.

Verstappen's current contract with Red Bull runs until the end of 2023, but earlier this year, Red Bull motorsport boss Helmut Marko hinted at an exit clause in the Dutchman's agreement that would entitle him to leave the team if Honda decided to leave F1.

"In principle, this contract is fixed. With a normal course everything is arranged," Marko said back in January.

"We now have a contract with Honda until 2021. And a Formula 1 car without an engine, that will of course be a difficult story," added the 76-year-old.

"So it's clear that we need a competitive engine [to keep Verstappen]."

With Honda's departure at the of next year now confirmed, Red Bull's difficult problem is therefore two fold: signing up a new engine supplier for 2022 and convincing Verstappen to remain on-board in the future.

Red Bull's engine options for 2020 are obviously sparse, with Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault the sport's remaining suppliers. And one could offer a good reason, or perhaps even a few, for why each manufacturer would be reticent to supply Red Bull, based on either competitive, logistical or political concerns, not to mention the bad blood that may still remain between Milton Keynes team and Renault, its previous engine supplier.

However, Renault could be forced to put its bad feelings aside by Appendix 9 of F1's sporting regulations that states that the engine supplier with the fewest customers can be constrained by the FIA to supply a team with no engine deal, a rule that could therefore force the two partners to rekindle their previously stormy relationship.

And there's also the possibility of Red Bull signing up with a new F1 engine supplier, with Volkswagen perhaps representing an outside choice.

But if Red Bull's engine choice beyond 2021 appears sparse, Verstappen's own alternatives are perhaps even scarcer, given the Dutchman's unrelenting ambition to win the world championship, especially after settling for second best for such a lengthy period.

Therefore, the bottom line for the 23-year-old after today's bombshell news is to figure out a way to get his hands on a Mercedes for 2022.

And Lewis Hamilton may hold the key to that conundrum.

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