Max Verstappen plays down talk he will replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes as Red Bull star admits reigning champions ‘must be favourite’ to retain their title ahead of new Formula One season
- Max Verstappen claimed Mercedes ‘must be favourite’ to win Formula One again
- The Dutchman also avoided talk of his replacing Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes
- Verstappen, 23, said he remained ‘realistic’ about Red Bull’s chances of F1 glory
Max Verstappen has said he is just ‘focused on myself’ instead of the swirling rumours about potentially replacing Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next year.
Given Hamilton’s decision to sign just a one-year extension with Mercedes, talk is rife about Verstappen switching to Red Bull’s German rivals to replace the British driving legend.
Even Red Bull chief Christian Horner went as far as to suggest that Verstappen could make the move. The 23-year-old is widely regarded as the heir to Hamilton’s racing throne.
Max Verstappen (left) said Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton (right) are favourites this season
The Dutchman’s contract expires in 2023, but a number of performance-related clauses could trigger his departure at the end of the year.
For his part, Verstappen batted away any suggestions over the move.
‘I don’t know what Lewis is going to do,’ he told BBC Sport. ‘I just focus on myself and I am very focused on this year and trying to make it a success.
‘It is so early in the season that those kinds of things I am not really thinking about at this stage.’
Verstappen accepted that rivals Mercedes are the front-runners for the upcoming Formula One season, but that he remains ‘realistic’ about his own titles hopes.
Verstappen was speaking after driving Red Bull’s new vehicle for the first time at Silverstone
The Dutchman said it was too early to tell about the car, ahead of pre-season testing in Bahrain
The Red Bull ace finished third in last year’s championship behind the Mercedes pairing of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Having completed a first drive of Red Bull’s car for the new season at Silverstone, Verstappen was under no illusions about the difficulty of challenging Hamilton, who is going for a record eighth world title.
‘Mercedes must be the favourites still,’ he said.
‘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.’
Bahrain is this year’s curtain raiser, with the teams being allowed three days of pre-season testing between 12-14 March on the same track as the race, which takes place two weeks later.
Verstappen (right) came third in last year’s F1 championship, while Hamilton won his seventh
Hamilton has signed a one-year contract extension with Mercedes for the upcoming campaign
Verstappen remained cagey following his first drive of Red Bull’s new car, with the team remaining tight-lipped about the changes they have made.
‘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 said.
‘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.
‘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.’
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