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Formula 1 chief Stefano Domenicali insists Max Verstappen will outlast him in the sport as speculation continues that the Red Bull star could choose to end his career prematurely. Verstappen has been vocal in his criticism of new changes to the sport in recent months, including tweaks to the sprint format, with cyrptic threats about his long-term future in F1, but Domenicali is confident the Dutchman will stay for some time yet.
The 25-year-old is aiming to win a third world title this season as Red Bull continue to dominate, But he has previously suggested he could retire at the age of just 31 – in 2029 – as he believes F1 is not one of the most important aspects of his life.
Changes to the sport to make it more open to new fans captured from the hit Netflix series Drive to Survive have left some drivers feeling disillusioned, and Verstappen is no different. In particular, the increasing number of races and the idea to bring more sprint races to the events has led Verstappen to threaten to walk away from F1 if they are brought in.
Speaking at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Verstappen said: “I hope there won’t be too many changes, otherwise I won’t be around for too long. We are heading into seasons where we could have 24 or 25 races and if you then start adding more it is not worth it for me. I will not enjoy that.”
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Losing Verstappen would be devastating to the F1 brand and Domenicali knows it. At every race, the Dutchman has a whole stand dedicated to his fans in dressed from head to toe in the Dutch orange, and his comments led the F1 boss to hold crunch talks with Verstappen to clear the air.
“I discussed the issues with Max [before the last race in Miami]. He said he loved the sport and what he was doing,” Domencali told the Mail on Sunday. “He is world champion and is fighting for a third title. He was born in a car. I would say he is likely to stay longer than me. It’s not a problem.”
Domenicali has come under intense pressure from the 20 drivers in the paddock after giving them more responsibility to become involved in pre-race entertainment and fan engagement. But the Italian boss has sent them a coded message – perhaps aimed at Verstappen – warning them not to be “selfish” in putting themselves before the overall health of the sport.
“I don’t want a society in which people cannot say what they want,” the Italian said. “But drivers sometimes need to remember that they are part of a broader picture. We don’t need to be selfish.
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“They are part of this sport and this business, and it grows because we are thinking bigger. Sometimes being out of our comfort zone is not easy, but we cannot be lazy or complacent – just as we can review some of the specifics of the sprint weekend format at the end of the season once we have tried it out on the intended six occasions. We won’t have sprints every weekend, either.
“But we have a new audience and need to provide value for money every session, not let everyone drive around in circles for the sole benefit of engineers and drivers.”
It seems unlikely that Verstappen would walk away in the midst of one of the most dominant periods from one team in the F1 era. Red Bull have won all five races this season and it seems inevitable that Verstappen will go on to claim his third title, but beyond his current Red Bull contract, his future is still up in the air.
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