Reigning Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen has predicted Mercedes to be the team that could provide the biggest possible obstacle to him and Red Bull reclaiming both their titles in 2023.
A titanic championship battle ensued between Red Bull and Mercedes in 2021 that witnessed the Drivers’ title go all the way down to the final lap of the final race in Abu Dhabi, with Verstappen passing Lewis Hamilton to claim the spoils in dramatic fashion.
However, the German team’s subsequent extensive struggles from the beginning of the new technical regulations introduced last year meant they were powerless to stop Verstappen from romping to a record-breaking 15 wins and 454 points on his way to retaining his crown.
Verstappen, who is seeking his third successive title this year, estimates that Mercedes will bounce back this year to be the Austrian side’s main threat and reignite their on-track rivalry.
“I think even at the end of the year it looked like sometimes they [Mercedes] had it together, and sometimes not. So, from my side, it’s difficult to say because I’m not part of the team, but I guess we’ll find out this year.
“If they fully understand everything they wanted to improve on the car, of course, they will be our main rival,” Verstappen said of Mercedes’ title credentials.
In the absence of the Silver Arrows consistently being at the sharp end, Ferrari picked up the mantle of becoming Red Bull’s nearest competitor – at least in the early part of last year.
While Verstappen isn’t discounting the famed Italian outfit producing a competitive package to rival Red Bull’s new RB19, the Dutch driver believes Mercedes’ superior strength-in-depth and ability to sustain successful championship bids gives them the edge.
“I think Ferrari will be strong – but how strong is difficult to say. But Mercedes have shown of course over the last few years that they’ve been really, really, really strong, but they have a good group of people as well.
“But I trust in my people at Milton Keynes that they can build a very strong car together with an engine as well. I hope that we again have a strong package against them,” he added.
Despite a willingness to talk up his potential rival’s chances for the year, Verstappen has refused to comment on the likelihood of him coming out on top again over the season, with the two-time champion preferring to wait until the competitive nature of his car is established before making any predictions.
“We work hard as a team to try and make sure that we have a chance to fight for it again but only time will tell, right?
“I’m not even thinking about these things at the moment – because it’s more important to focus on just having a competitive car, and if we have a competitive car these things can happen.
“But it’s more important to make sure the car is running well, has no issues, and is quick at the end of the day,” the Dutchman concluded.
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