Home » The move Max would be mad to make; harsh reality for ‘real deal’ Piastri — David Croft’s F1 verdict

The move Max would be mad to make; harsh reality for ‘real deal’ Piastri — David Croft’s F1 verdict

Red Bull champion Max Verstappen has dominated the start of the 2024 Formula 1 season, but there hasn’t been a shortage of off-track controversy ahead of this weekend’s Australia’s Grand Prix at Albert Park.

F1 commentator David Croft sat down with Fox Sports’ Jess Yates ahead of the high-anticipated Melbourne event to discuss all the hot topics from the pitlane.

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Why Max is loyal to Marko over Horner | 02:15

HORNER DRAMA COULD DERAIL RED BULL SEASON

The apparent power struggle at Red Bull hasn’t affected the team’s on-track performance, with Verstappen comfortably winning the opening two rounds in Bahrain and Saud Arabia.

An investigation dismissed allegations against team principal Christian Horner of inappropriate text messages to a female employee, who has since been suspended from her job and lodged a complaint with F1’s ruling body.

With a further 22 races on the horizon for 2024, Croft cautioned that the Horner scandal could derail the team’s season if the situation isn’t resolved.

“What seems to be a battle for power behind the scenes is taking place not to the detriment of their sporting performance at the moment,” Croft said.

“But if there’s a lot going on the background that is grabbing the attention and draining the energy levels, that might take a toll eventually.

“It’s a long, long season ahead.”

Earlier this month, the future of veteran Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko was called into question amid the controversy around Horner, but Verstappen pledged his loyalty to Marko, a claim that didn’t surprise Croft.

“Marko, at the end of the day, is the guy who has guided Max Verstappen in Formula 1 and throughout his time in Formula 1,” Croft continued.

“Marko has that special relationship with the drivers because that’s his job. That is his purpose.”

A cloud hovers over Horner’s position amid growing calls for the 50-year-old to stand down, with Croft anticipating the outcome of the female employee’s appeal to determine his fate.

“Christian Horner’s future is subject to the results of that appeal,” Croft said.

“I’m sure it would take a toll, not just on Christian, but his family as well.”

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner talks with Jos Verstappen. Photo by Clive Rose/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

HAMILTON ‘WANTED A NEW CHALLENGE’

Last month, British champion Lewis Hamilton signed with Ferrari for the 2025 season in an F1 bombshell, ending his successful partnership with Mercedes.

The seven-time world champion will replace Spanish driver Carlos Sainz next year, partnering with Charles Leclerc on a multi-year deal.

Croft admitted he wasn’t surprised by Hamilton’s decision to leave a team where he won eight consecutive constructors’ titles.

“He obviously felt that Mercedes wasn’t the right place for him at this stage in his career,” Croft said.

“He felt like he wanted a new challenge. He wanted to go somewhere to reinvigorate himself a little bit, and to win that eighth world title that he came so close to.

“I’m really excited about it. Lewis Hamilton in red? Why not? It’s going to be awesome.

“Lewis and Charles (Leclerc), what a dream line-up for Ferrari.”

However, Croft suggested that Leclerc didn’t anticipate the signing, pondering how the driver would cope with the superstar teammate joining him at Ferrari.

“Is he a bit miffed? I’m not sure, he’s still Ferrari’s man,” Croft continued.

“It’s not like he’s been shoved to one side … but it’s a test for Charles.

“I think the pair of them are going to be fantastic teammates.”

Max to Mercedes? Crofty makes his bet! | 03:25

VERSTAPPEN JOINING MERCEDES ‘UNLIKELY’, BUT NOT IMPOSSIBLE

The obvious question becomes who will replace Hamilton at Mercedes next year?

Croft believes it’s a two-horse race between teenage prodigy Andrea Kimi Antonelli and Verstappen, with murmurs the Dutch superstar is considering joining the rival team.

However, Croft questioned whether the timing was right for Verstappen to make the move, pointing out new engine regulations won’t come into effect until 2026.

“Why would you give up Red Bull at the moment?” Croft asked.

“If you’re sat in the best seat in the house, why would you give that up?

“I think it’s unlikely, but you never say anything is impossible in Formula 1, because it often is.”

Croft also predicted that Sainz, who is recovering from appendicitis surgery, would drive for either Aston Martin or Williams in 2025.

“Audi would want him, it’s no secret that they’ve been in talks already,” Croft said.

“Does he want to go there? I’m don’t know if he does just yet.

“Aston Martin would want him, but not alongside Fernando Alonso.

“I don’t think he’s in the frame for the Mercedes seat necessarily.

“Williams would be an option, and a good option. He might see the challenge of Williams as one that he wants to take at this stage of his career.”

Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Visa Cash App RB. Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

RICCIARDO UNDER HUGE PRESSURE AFTER POOR START

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo after an underwhelming start to his 2024 campaign, with no points after two races.

The 34-year-old is attempting to jump-start his F1 career with backmarker RB, formerly AlphaTauri, where he hopes to recapture his old sizzling form and vie for Sergio Perez’s seat at Red Bull.

However, Australian great Alan Jones recently suggested Ricciardo was “treading water” in F1 following poor performances in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, where he was outperformed by teammate Yuki Tsunoda.

“He’s under huge pressure,” Croft said.

“Ricciardo has not started the season that well.

“I’m sure the RB will be a better car in time. It might not be the best car for him at the moment.

“But he’s been beaten by his teammate, and you have to judge yourself against your teammate, and that’s not in Daniel’s favour.

“I still think Daniel’s a fine driver. I think he deserves his place in the grid, but we need to see more from him, and that will be the message getting through to him.”

Croft believes that rising star Liam Lawson, who made his F1 debut last year, is breathing down Ricciardo’s neck, predicting the Australian won’t be on the grid in 2025 if he has a poor season.

“Liam Lawson is there and he’s ready,’ Croft continued.

“(RB’s) reason for being is to bring young drivers through. Is that Daniel Ricciardo?”

Oscar Piastri arrives at Albert Park. Picture: Jake NowakowskiSource: News Corp Australia

OUTLOOK FOR ‘REAL DEAL’ PIASTRI

Oscar Piastri, the hometown hero, returns to Albert Park for his second Australian GP, having placed eighth last year in dramatic circumstances.

The McLaren driver, who has signed a multi-year deal with the Woking-based team, has kicked off his 2024 campaign with two solid performances, most notably the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix where he finished fourth.

He’s currently fifth on the driver standings with 16 points, while McLaren teammate Lando Norris is down in eighth with 12.

“All Oscar can do is carry on pushing and beating his teammate, and when the chance comes, you take it,” Croft said.

“I was particularly pleased with the way he seems to be managing his tyres better this year, proving he learnt a lot from his rookie season.

“I think he’s the real deal. He’s an exceptional driver.”

However, Croft warned Australian fans not to expect Piastri to finish on the podium this weekend, with Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari each boasting faster cars.

“But don’t put too much pressure on him … the reality is the car is probably not the second-best car.

“He’s going to need a few retirements to get (on the podium).

“Eventually we’ll see him on the podium, winning more, but I don’t see that at this moment in time.”