Mercedes’ non-executive chairman Niki Lauda has told Red Bull’s Helmut Marko that he “would have saved money” if he’d spoken to him before re-signing Max Verstappen to a long-term Formula 1 deal.
Appearing together in a show on Austrian broadcaster Servus TV, Lauda said that Mercedes “never talked” to Verstappen about switching teams, and that Red Bull’s rush to re-sign the Dutchman caused it to pay more than it needed to.
Red Bull swooped to sign Verstappen up to a long-term contract before Austin, amid fears that Mercedes could try to lure him away.
Speculation about such a plan had been fuelled after Max’s father Jos was spotted visiting the Mercedes motorhome in Monza for a chat with team boss Toto Wolff – although it has been understood subsequently that this get together was purely social and about matters unrelated to racing.
Sources suggest that Mercedes never intended to poach Verstappen either, as it didn’t want to risk pairing him with Lewis Hamilton for fear of it creating a volatile atmosphere.
When asked on the TV show what had transpired, Lauda said: “We never offered him a contract.”
Marko laughed this off, saying: “Officially, yes.”
Lauda continued: “I have a good relationship to Helmut. We usually share an airplane. But when he is getting stubborn, and thinks that something could be taken away from him, he immediately signs a contract. He went to Austin with [Verstappen’s] father and signed.”
Directing his words towards Marko, Lauda added: “I tell you, if we had talked before, you would have saved money. We never talked to him about money.”
Marko responded: “Let’s put it this way: No offer. Thanks. Thanks for trying to help us save money. We don’t help you.”
He then attempted to turn the tables on Lauda: “You have no alternative for Hamilton. You have to pay him what he demands.”
Lauda replied: “Alright, I have no objections.”
Max “used the chance to get a salary rise”
When asked what happened during Red Bull’s Verstappen negotiations, Marko explained: “We introduced him to our plans for the future. We guaranteed that our most important people are committed until 2020, and that we have an alternative in terms of engine supply. This is no secret.
“All this convinced him. Of course, he used the chance to get a salary rise. It’s within reason. He is far from [the remuneration of] Hamilton or [Sebastian] Vettel. When he wins championships, he can reach that level. This is no secret.”
Lauda hit back: “When he becomes a world champion he can get the same like Hamilton? You will pay him like we do?”
Marko replied: “For Formula 1 proportions, we are on a relatively low level in terms of fixed salary. But we have good bonuses.”
Quotes translated by Dominik Sharaf