Red Bull Racing star Max Verstappen has claimed that it is too early to tell whether he can mount a sustained title challenge to Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton this year. The Dutchman is widely regarded as one of F1’s best young drivers but has failed to lay a glove on the seven-time champion in the race for the Drivers’ Championship since making his debut in the sport six years ago.
Red Bull are hoping to close the gap to Mercedes this year ahead of the scheduled upheaval of sporting and technical regulations in 2022.
They have enlisted the help of experienced Mexican star Sergio Perez with the hope of fighting for regular Grand Prix victories, after the decision to drop Alex Albon after his struggles in matching Verstappen last season.
The latter won two races during the previous campaign, at Silverstone and in Abu Dhabi, and will be hoping to improve on his tally this time around with minimal regulation changes to disrupt his team’s pre-season preparations.
Although Red Bull will be quietly confident that Verstappen can bring the fight to Hamilton in 2021, the man himself has called for calm ahead of the new season.
Speaking after Wednesday’s shakedown runs in the brand new Red Bull RB16B, the 23-year-old refused to be drawn into speculating on his title chances, claiming that it is impossible to make a solid prediction before the season has even started.
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“We drive on demo tyres so it will never feel how it’s going to feel on real tyres, so I never really base a lot of my findings on this,” he told reporters.
“It’s more just to get the car out and run a few laps. It all felt normal. We just have to wait and see what happens in Bahrain once we have proper tyres under the car.
“I am always very realistic and it makes no sense to talk about stuff now. We have to go to Bahrain and look at it there.
“In the first race we will know if we succeeded or not. I don’t like to talk it up at the moment.
“We know where we want to be and where we want to get to and that’s what we have to realise.”
Although F1 chiefs have decided to carry over the majority of last year’s regulations, teams have been forced to rethink their floor designs after the implementation of new restrictions aiming to reduce downforce.
With Red Bull known for their strong aerodynamics, Verstappen is optimistic that they can gain an advantage from the situation, as he suggested that whichever team acts quickest to gain back the lost downforce will be able to pull away from the rest of the field early on.
“The floor is still a big change,” he added. “To try to recover all that downforce loss will be important.
“It is going to be interesting to see who did the best. At the moment, of course I don’t know where we are.
“Mercedes was still the dominant car towards the end of the season, so we of course know we have to keep improving.”
Verstappen will be hoping to get off to the perfect start in the race to deny Hamilton a record eighth world title at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28.
Teams will have the chance to finalise their preparations during a condensed three-day period of pre-season testing at the circuit in a fortnight’s time.