Max Verstappen's bumper Red Bull contract extension has some obvious ramifications on the Formula One grid for what still could be a fascinating year in terms of potential driver moves.
For Red Bull and Honda, it is a huge win. It takes Verstappen off the market at a time whispers of a move to Mercedes were starting to grow, but more importantly gives a ringing endorsement of Red Bull's fledgling partnership with Honda. Immediately after the extension was confirmed, Verstappen tweeted his desire to win a championship with the team which has supported him since the start of his F1 career.
The Red Bull-Honda partnership is currently contracted to run until the end of 2021, so Verstappen's decision to commit beyond that shows a great deal of faith in the success of the project over the next two seasons. Verstappen claimed three victories with Honda power in 2019, and there is a strong feeling it can build on that success in the coming year, while the complete overhaul of F1's regulations in 2021 has Red Bull dreaming about reasserting itself as the grid's dominant force once again.
The extension means the grid's brightest two stars of the future, Verstappen and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, are tied down at their current teams for the foreseeable future.
The driver market attention now shifts to the two most successful drivers of the modern era.
Happy birthday, Lewis
Verstappen's deal was confirmed on Lewis Hamilton's 35th birthday and it is something of a gift to the six-time world champion, as it will bolster his position while discussing his future with Mercedes this year, the final one of his existing deal. In the final weeks of the 2019 season, Hamilton spoke openly about the prospect of a blockbuster switch to Ferrari after meetings with company chairman John Elkann.
The Hamilton-Ferrari link is not a new one, but Hamilton had never spoken so candidly about the possibility. The idea of driving for Ferrari is a tantalising one for any driver, but the added prospect of ending the Italian team's championship drought and, assuming he wins a seventh title before leaving Mercedes, breaking Michael Schumacher's record in a red car must only add to the appeal of a switch in the final days of his career.
Ferrari has since called the speculation which followed Hamilton's meetings with Elkann "totally premature," but the mere suggestion of a move leaves Hamilton in a very strong position in his negotiations. It was enough to unsettle the bosses at Red Bull -- Helmut Marko told Auto Motor und Sport after Verstappen's deal was announced he had been concerned about the prospect of the Dutchman ending up at Mercedes.
With Verstappen off the market, Mercedes can no longer use the prospect of signing the Dutchman as leverage. The fact Mercedes has kept Valtteri Bottas on a succession of one-year extensions proves it is not convinced of him as a long-term option and it is impossible to imagine the team entering 2021 with the Finn as its lead driver. Were Hamilton to leave, there are no alternatives who match Verstappen's calibre, so Tuesday's announcement has only raised the prospect of Mercedes getting a deal done with their man.
Verstappen's former teammate Daniel Ricciardo seems the next best available option to replace Hamilton, but he spent 2019 languishing in the midfield after his move to Renault. Ricciardo still has credit in the bank from his strong five-year stint with Red Bull, where he was a proven race winner who established a reputation as one of the grid's brightest talents. He will hope the gloss of those days has not worn off completely when he is talking to other top teams this year.
Ricciardo is likely to have one eye on the fortunes of another former teammate this year, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel. Like Hamilton, Vettel is entering the final year of his deal, but his future looks as uncertain as ever. The length of Leclerc's deal suggests the younger driver is now viewed as the long-term future of the Italian team, and Vettel's error-strewn recent past has left him on the ropes going into the 2020 season.
For Ferrari, things haven't changed a great deal. If it does decide to move on from Vettel, it has Ricciardo as a quick and reliable fallback option if Hamilton decides to stay with Mercedes -- handily, Ricciardo speaks fluent Italian and could be expected to quickly adapt to life back at the front end of the grid. While Ferrari does have still-unproven Mick Schumacher waiting in the wings, it is highly unlikely the Italian team would risk dropping him in the deep end for 2021 even if he won this year's Formula 2 championship.
A lot, of course, rests on the state of Leclerc's tense relationship with Vettel by the end of 2020. Even if the threat of Hamilton and Ricciardo being on the market triggers a turnaround in Vettel's form, the team might see it as counterproductive to continue with that pairing if the two continue to clash on track this season, especially if the team feels it is well-placed to win a championship in 2021.
Does anyone else benefit?
There are no obvious ramifications on other drivers, beyond Verstappen's deal reducing the chances of a crazy series of moves with implications across the grid.
Verstappen's deal makes him the de facto team leader at Red Bull (if he wasn't already) and the team's operation is likely to continue to be shaped around him. Bad news, then, for teammate Alexander Albon? Not really, as Albon has bigger things to worry about in 2020, like securing a long-term stay of his own at the team. To do so, he must close the gap to Verstappen on track to ensure he is not looking over his shoulder at Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly come the summer break.
With Ferrari and Red Bull both committing to their budding young stars, highly rated Mercedes junior George Russell might feel even better about his chances of an elevation from Williams to Mercedes for 2021. A positive for Russell, who won the 2018 Formula 2 championship, is his future is not reliant on Hamilton's next move -- Bottas has done little to suggest he can win a championship at Mercedes and is on another one-year deal with the German manufacturer, so Russell looks like a very strong candidate to be driving a silver car whatever happens over the next 12 months.