The years on a Formula 1 driver’s contract are secondary to various performance-related clauses. With Red Bull underperforming in 2017, these performance clauses could give the Red Bull driver who finishes 6th or lower in the points the freedom to join the possible 2018 vacancies at Mercedes and Ferrari.
Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were promised a race-winning car and they way it is going at the moment, this only looks possible if there are four retirements further ahead. Whilst this could happen once, the likelihood of both Ricciardo and Verstappen winning in 2017 looks to be slim.
There are allegedly three performance related clauses in the Red Bull driver contracts:
– Winning a Grand Prix
– Finishing the Driver Championship in the top five
– Finishing the Constructors Championship in the top three
If two of these three performance-related clauses are not met, the driver can look elsewhere for a race seat. The most likely of these clauses to be met is obviously finishing 3rd in the Constructors Championship. Whilst it looks like Force India can probably beat Red Bull at a few race weekends, it’s very unlikely that Red Bull will drop to 4th.
It gets tricky with the other two clauses as the Red Bull drivers look to be on for 5th and 6th at best in the Driver standings, meaning that either Ricciardo or Verstappen will fail this second performance clause, and it will be one strike out of two needed to move on.
Red Bull will be hoping that the driver who does finish 6th overall will be the one to win a Grand Prix, this scenario would ensure that two of the three performance clauses are met, with one driver fulfilling clause one and three, the other fulfilling clause two and three.
But if the driver who finishes 5th overall is also the driver the pick up a Grand Prix victory, the Red Bull driver in 6th will have only fulfilled one of the three performance-related clauses, giving them the freedom to move on should they wish to.
There are possible vacancies at Mercedes and Ferrari for 2018, with Valtteri Bottas one a one-year deal and Kimi Raikkonen’s position at Ferrari a constant source of speculation. Whilst there are other drivers on the grid in contention for the seats, most notable both Force India drivers and Carlos Sainz, the acquisition of either Ricciardo or Verstappen would surely be the most desirable option for either of the top teams.
It’s a long season, and Red Bull could always pull something out of the bag in terms of a radical upgrade that ensures both of their current drivers win a race, ending any threat of these performance clauses potentially separating their line-up in 2018, but it must be nervous times at the Red Bull garage at the moment.