Ralf Schumacher says that Sir Lewis Hamilton was only an alternative for Mercedes after Max Verstappen rejected their advances for a drive with the Silver Arrows for 2022 and beyond.

The claim comes after Hamilton agreed a new two-year deal with the reigning seven-time Constructors' champions in July. The Briton made it clear that he wants to remain in Formula 1 in the new era that gets underway in 2022.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff praised Hamilton and suggested that it was a no brainer to hand the seven-time world champion a new deal after having achieved unprecedented success together. However, Schumacher feels the reigning champions only decided to give the former McLaren driver a new deal after they were rejected by Red Bull Racing's Verstappen.

"For me, [Hamilton's] contract extension fundamentally means that Max [Verstappen] rejected Mercedes," Schumacher said in an interview, as quoted on Marca.

"I believe that Mercedes had placed all their hopes on signing Verstappen, with the aim of completely securing his future," he added. "That idea wasn't possible, and in my opinion, Lewis [Hamilton] was the only alternative."

Verstappen is probably the hottest property on the F1 grid at the moment, but the Dutch driver is contracted to the Austrian team until 2023. He is also leading the 2021 world championship from Hamilton, but his crash at the recently concluded British Grand Prix saw his 32 point advantage cut to eight points.

Despite Red Bull's calamitous weekend at Silverstone, Schumacher believes they still hold an advantage over Mercedes. The former Williams F1 driver is unsure if the Brackley-based team can turn it around before the end of the season.

"I am curious to know if Mercedes will turn the World Championship around, because Red Bull still has a lot to offer, and perhaps they still have not shown it all yet," Schumacher said. "In reality, it will come down to a duel between Hamilton and Verstappen."

"I hope that no one gets injured. Every time they remind me more of [Ayrton] Senna and [Alain] Prost and the way that they used to drive on the track."

Max Verstappen
Red Bull's Max Verstappen was a winner in Austria last year William WEST/AFP