Horner: Lewis Hamilton was ‘desperate’ to race for Red Bull

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Red Bull Racing Formula 1 chief Christian Horner has claimed that three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was “desperate” to join the team prior to his move to Mercedes.

Hamilton ended a long-running relationship with McLaren in 2012 to join Mercedes for the 2013 season at a time when Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull were dominating in the series.

After a quiet first season with Mercedes that yielded just one race win, Hamilton has since established himself among F1’s all-time greats by winning back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015.

The Briton has hit new heights off-track as well, securing a staggering new Mercedes contract in 2015 and enjoying a celebrity status known by few in F1’s history.

However, it all could have been very different had Hamilton earned his desired move to Red Bull, as revealed by Horner to F1 Racing magazine.

“He wanted to drive for Red Bull,” Horner said. “He was desperate to drive for the team.

“In 2012, he wanted to come and drive for us, but there was no way we could accommodate him while Sebastian was with us.

“Then before he signed for Mercedes he was very keen to drive for Red Bull in 2013.”

Fascinatingly, Horner also revealed that he convinced Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda to sign Hamilton, believing that the Briton would be less of a threat to Red Bull if he wasn’t racing for McLaren.

“The McLaren had been very competitive in 2011 and 2012 and I thought it would probably be better for us for him to be at Mercedes than McLaren,” Horner said.

“In the event of us not being able to sign him I encouraged Niki Lauda to sign him to weaken McLaren, not envisaging that Mercedes would become the absolute powerhouse they are today.”

McLaren has not won a single race since Hamilton left and has scored just two podium finishes, and spent much of 2015 toiling at the back of the grid en route to ninth place in the constructors’ championship.

AN ALTERNATE HISTORY?

So what if Lewis Hamilton had joined Red Bull and not Mercedes for the 2013 season? (Assumptions follow…).

Firstly, it’s very plausible that Nico Rosberg could be a two-time world champion by now – more titles than Hamilton would have, assuming the Briton lost to Vettel at Red Bull in 2013.

Secondly, it would most probably have set the driver market into a very different motion. Mark Webber was approached by Ferrari to replace Felipe Massa for 2013, so that would likely have gone ahead if the Australian opted to give it another year before heading to WEC.

Webber would not have likely lasted too much longer at Ferrari, though, so a space may have been opened up for Kimi Raikkonen still. Similarly, Fernando Alonso would have bailed eventually, allowing Vettel to still make his dream move to Ferrari.

Hamilton joining Red Bull would have most probably delayed Daniel Ricciardo’s promotion to Red Bull until Vettel left. Would we rave about the affable Aussie so much had he debuted in the 2015 RB11?

Perhaps the biggest question unanswered is who would have joined Mercedes in Hamilton’s place. Michael Schumacher was keen to race in 2013, but would he have stayed on for another year or two beyond that to fight for an eighth world title?

Maybe a more likely answer comes in the form of Fernando Alonso. Tired with Ferrari, perhaps he would have jumped ship to Mercedes for 2014 and enjoyed racing with the best car on the grid for the first time since 2007.

The most interesting aspect of this is how a Hamilton/Vettel partnership would have worked. The two greatest drivers of the post-Schumacher era together in the same roost – what a sight that would have been…

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.