Signing up Max Verstappen for the long term was “one of the best decisions” Red Bull has made in Formula 1.
That is the view of the energy drink company’s Dr Helmut Marko, after two-time champion Verstappen pulled out a 15-point lead over his own teammate Sergio Perez in Melbourne.
Mercedes’ George Russell even thinks Red Bull is sandbagging early in 2023.
“That’s very generous of him,” smiled Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.
“I guess as a Mercedes driver he knows about dominance.”
Horner denies Russell’s assertion that the real gap between Red Bull and rivals Aston Martin, Mercedes and Ferrari is at least “seven tenths per lap”.
But whatever the gap is, Mercedes is pushing hard to close it after deciding to scrap the ‘no sidepods’ car concept as soon as possible.
“We’ve made huge gains in the wind tunnel in the last two to three weeks,” Russell confirmed.
Ferrari is also vowing to improve its 2023 car – but former F1 driver Ralf Schumacher thinks the Maranello team will ultimately fall short.
“It will be difficult for them to change their concept now,” he told Sky Deutschland. “We can’t forget the budget cap. Teams can’t just spend the money they want.
“Ferrari looked a bit stronger in the race, but I think that was track-related.”
And so for now, even though Verstappen is unhappy with Liberty Media’s emphasis on the ‘show’ element of F1 at present, Red Bull is delighted to have signed up the 25-year-old all the way until 2028.
“Max was restrained at the beginning of the race,” Marko told the Dutch publication Formule 1. “Not too aggressive.
“He kept his distance and struck at the right time. Then he controlled the race perfectly, making no mistakes. But we’ve got used to that from him.
“When Max is in the lead, you know it’s going to be ok. He is definitely the best driver at the moment.
“It was one of the best decisions we made to sign such a long contract with him. That stability is very important for the team and Max also has that certainty,” Marko, 79, added.