MONACO (Reuters) - Australian Daniel Ricciardo and Dutch teenager Max Verstappen have no escape clauses in their contracts and will remain with Red Bull in 2018, team principal Christian Horner said on Friday.
Asked at the Monaco Grand Prix if the two drivers had performance-related elements that might allow them to look elsewhere he told Reuters: ”No, none at all. They are both straightforward clean contracts.
“I’ve got no doubt that both Max and Daniel will be driving an RB14 next year.”
The question has become more of an issue, in a paddock where rumours are rife, as former champions Red Bull have slipped back after finishing runners-up to Mercedes last season.
They have two of the most coveted drivers while Ferrari and Mercedes have yet to confirm who will partner multiple champions and title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton respectively.
The Red Bull pair are both race winners, exciting overtakers and hugely popular among the sport’s fan base.
Mercedes and Ferrari are the only teams to have won so far this season and while Ricciardo was third in Spain two weeks ago, he was well over a minute behind race winner Hamilton.
Ricciardo started on pole position in Monaco last year and was second fastest in practice this Thursday around the twisting street circuit, where engine power is less of a factor.
But Red Bull reckoned they had the best chassis last year, compensating for a lack of grunt from the Renault engine, and they cannot say that now.
“Chassis-wise I think we are having to make up ground to our competitors,” said Horner.
“Ferrari I think have got a very strong package at the moment. Mercedes obviously are right there also and I think we’re closing the gap to them, but we’re not quite at their level yet.”
Horner has been saying loud and clear for some time that he wants Renault, whose engines are badged Tag Heuer in the Red Bull after a previous tiff between the fractious partners, to provide an upgrade with the least delay.
When that will be remains guesswork, with Horner saying in a recent interview that he was going to church every week in the hope his prayers would be heard.
Such comments have not gone down well with Renault Sport F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul, who has chafed at “wrong communication”.
“Cyril obviously can be a bit irritable at times,” said Horner, pronouncing the word as if it were an alternative surname for the Frenchman.
“Sometimes we get mixed messages but the most important thing is that they’re working hard, they’re making progress and hopefully with the introduction of each power unit we should see incremental improvements.”
Horner did not expect any change by the next race in Canada, however.
Monaco has rewarded Red Bull in the past, with three wins in a row between 2010-12, and Horner was hopeful of another strong performance.
“Daniel has always excelled at this circuit, he’s very confident. He’s won support races here, he’s qualified on pole here, he’s led a lot of laps here. He put in an outstanding performance in 2014, same again in ’16,” said Horner.
“But Max is getting there as well. He had a bit of a scruffy day yesterday afternoon, with just traffic and red flags, but he’s in pretty decent shape.”
After Monaco, the next circuits that Red Bull can feel confident about will be Hungary and Singapore but the boss hoped for other chances as well. An upgraded engine could write another script entirely.
“Who’d have predicted we’d have won Malaysia last year or Barcelona? And we had some other great races at Silverstone, in Austria and Hockenheim,” added Horner.
“We don’t take anything for granted and we know we have ground to make up. But the whole team is massively motivated to close that gap down and I think has actually been doing a very good job over the early races.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris