F1: Red Bull's Verstappen gets in shape for new season
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Former Red Bull driver David Coulthard has tipped Max Verstappen to win this year’s Drivers’ Championship title ahead of Lewis Hamilton, suggesting that reliability will be the only threat to the Dutchman’s prospects of beating his Mercedes rival over the course of the season. Verstappen currently sits one point behind Hamilton after the Stevenage-born racer managed to snatch second place and the fastest lap at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix earlier this month.
However, Verstappen claimed an outstanding victory, surging past Hamilton at the first heavy braking zone and retaining his lead to make an impressive statement to showcase Red Bull’s championship potential.
The RB16B appears to have come on leaps and bounds since last year, while Mercedes have struggled to adapt to the new regulations mandating changes to the floor area and rear end.
Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have looked slower on paper than Verstappen and Sergio Perez since pre-season testing, with the Silver Arrows’ dominance of the last seven years facing the very real possibility of being derailed during the current campaign.
The German outfit has scooped every available piece of end-of-season silverware since 2014, with Hamilton rarely tested at the front of the grid with the exception of the 2016 season, when his team-mate Nico Rosberg edged a thrilling title fight that went down to the wire.
But Coulthard, who won 13 Grands Prix during his time in F1, has identified Verstappen as the favourite for this year’s crown.
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The Scot told the Daily Mail that only bad luck can damage Red Bull’s hopes of winning a title with Verstappen, highlighting the team’s clear advantage over Mercedes with regards to car performance.
“They are the real deal in terms of outright pace,” said Coulthard.
“Red Bull have consistently delivered a competitive car.
“There’s no question if you can deliver the lap time in qualifying and then you don’t have reliability issues in the race.
“That’s where Mercedes have been so strong over the last several years, they have had qualifying pace and they have had unbelievable reliability.
“So the only thing that I think can stand in the way of Max and Red Bull Racing really taking this championship is the racing Gods maybe getting involved in a few things with reliability, because he is definitely experienced enough, he is definitely mature enough – which at 23 seems incredible – but he is ready. He is more than ready.”
Verstappen and Hamilton will get another opportunity to battle it out at this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix, with Red Bull able to leapfrog their rivals in the Constructors’ Championship table with a strong performance.
Last year’s race at Portimao was particularly tricky for the drivers, who were forced to deal with a brand new surface that lacked grip, but the track should be weathered in by now and it remains to be seen whether Red Bull can avoid a repeat of last season’s Mercedes one-two.
Silver Arrows team principal Toto Wolff recently admitted that he is expecting another tightly-fought Grand Prix after Verstappen’s win at Imola, and suggested that Hamilton and Bottas could also be in line to face stiff competition from the likes of McLaren and Ferrari at the top of the midfield.
“It’s an exciting, undulating track and produced some great racing in 2020,” Wolff told GP Fans earlier this week.
“We also saw in qualifying and the opening laps that getting the tyres working properly is not easy.
“It’s still quite a new circuit for everyone, which should make things interesting and mean we are learning all through the weekend.
“We’re expecting another close fight with Red Bull, and both McLaren and Ferrari could also be in the mix too. So, let’s see how things play out in Portugal.”
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