Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has hailed Max Verstappen as the “highest benchmark” in Formula 1.
Verstappen won the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix earlier this month, dominating en route to victory ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez.
Verstappen entered the year after cruising to a second F1 title last year, winning 15 grand prix during the campaign.
His title defence got off to the strongest possible start in Bahrain, with Red Bull appearing to once again possess the fastest car in the field.
Speaking about his driver, Horner says that Verstappen is the strongest performer on the grid – but says that there is stacked competition around him.
“Max is a hell of a competitor and he’s a tough… probably the highest benchmark in Formula 1,” Horner said.
“But Checo is now in his third year in the team, he’s confident, he’s comfortable and he’s got to be on his A-game. And not just with Max.
“It’s, you know, Fred’s [Vasseur] drivers are pushing each other hard, Mercedes’ drivers are hard, we’ve got looks like a pretty motivated veteran in a green car [Aston Martin] as well.
“So it’s going to be a really exciting year and I think there’s going to be some great racing ahead of us.”
Red Bull faced early-season resistance from Ferrari last year before the Maranello-based squad’s title hopes disappeared.
The team has brought in Frederic Vasseur to manage the team for the 2023 campaign, with the Frenchman already working with Leclerc at Sauber in 2018.
“He [Leclerc] is five years older, that he’s a bit more mature, a bit more confident about his feedback,” Vasseur said.
“But again, we are at the early stage of the collaboration, and I don’t want to draw a conclusion too early. But the feeling is the same. And it’s a good feeling for me to work with him.”
Speaking about Sainz, Vasseur added: “I always try to get him with me in the past. And he never wanted to join me, so I had to do the reverse and join Carlos!
“But the feeling was always very good. I tried to sign him when I was at Renault and then at Sauber. And I think that we have a mutual trust.
“I’m convinced that he will do a very good job. As Christian said before, we need to have this kind of competition into the team. It’s part of the performance. And I think it’s an asset of the team.”
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