Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner is not worried about the prospect of Max Verstappen leaving for pastures new in the near future. The talented Dutchman has been tipped as a potential replacement for Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes when the reigning champion’s one-year contract expires at the end of the season.
Reports earlier this month have linked the Silver Arrows with a shock move for Verstappen in time for the widespread regulation changes in 2022, amid uncertainty over Hamilton’s future in the sport once the upcoming season reaches its conclusion.
Mercedes have managed to keep Red Bull at arm’s length for seven years on the trot, leading to speculation surrounding a move away for the 23-year-old if he grows tired of playing second fiddle to Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
However, Horner is not concerned by the murmurs, claiming his team are fully focused on the factors they can control rather than getting caught up in hearsay ahead of the upcoming season.
“I think I’ve been around too long to worry too much about what others are doing,” he told Autosport. “The most important thing for us is to concern ourselves with what we’re doing.
“And it’s enormously important for ourselves, and obviously Max, to build on the potential that we’ve shown. That’s our objective.
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“I’m not really paying a great deal of attention to speculation. It’s: ‘we need to control the things that we have at our disposal and we need to maximise our own performance’, which is absolutely our combined objective for this year.”
Verstappen is preparing for his sixth season in F1 with the hope of improving on last year’s third-placed finish in the Drivers’ Championship, once again ending the campaign behind both Mercedes drivers.
He will partner new boy Sergio Perez in the RB16B, Red Bull’s challenger for 2021 that was unveiled on Tuesday.
The Mexican got his first taste of on-track action with the team shortly after the reveal, racing the 2019 car around Silverstone ahead of Wednesday’s shakedown session involving the new set of wheels and both drivers.
Horner revealed that he feels Red Bull are in ‘reasonable shape’ ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28, hailing his colleagues for their efforts amid the crippling effect of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the F1 paddock.
“It’s been busy,” he added. “The team have done a great job working around the challenges that we’ve faced. Generally, I think we’re in reasonable shape.
“I think we’ve been assisted by the fact that there’s a large percentage of the regulations that are carried over, which is unusual.”
Verstappen and Perez will receive a huge clue with regards to their title chances at pre-season testing at the beginning of March.
Teams will have just three days to get to grips with their new machinery in a condensed testing programme at the Bahrain International Circuit, with F1 chiefs deciding to move away from Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya while it undergoes track layout alterations.
Horner’s Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff has backed Red Bull to enjoy a strong campaign in 2021 despite their shortcomings in the face of the German outfit’s dominance.
Wolff suggested last week that the Silver Arrows could struggle after new rules on floor structure were introduced, potentially opening the door for Red Bull, who are known for their strong aerodynamics, to close the gap.
“The change to the floor, from which a part has to be cut out basically, is decisive in a technical sense,” he told Speed Week.
“It has forced a rethink of the entire concept. So we cannot rule out that Red Bull or Aston Martin will come up with a better solution.”