Red Bull Formula 1 chief Christian Horner has underlined his intention to keep Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo together as teammates beyond the end of the 2018 season, saying the pair have formed the team’s “best ever” line-up.
Red Bull announced over the United States Grand Prix weekend that Verstappen had signed a new contract tying him to the team until 2020, creating doubt over Ricciardo’s long-term future beyond the end of his existing deal that expires in 12 months’ time.
Red Bull said it would look to build the team around Verstappen moving forward, but Horner stressed this was not supposed to be a slight against Ricciardo before proclaiming the current line-up to be the four-time champion squad’s best-ever.
Red Bull have ended the 2017 season on a march, taking victories with Verstappen in Malaysia and Mexico, and since Singapore have only missed out on a podium finish, in the USA.
Such strong results have allowed the Milton Keynes based squad to accumulate more points than Scuderia Ferrari since returning from the summer break, seeing them become the most improved team in-season this year.
Those very facts have led Horner to re-iterate his belief to Sky Sports News recently, that Red Bull have the best car on the grid, with only their lack of performance early on, which included a number of reliability induced race retirements for Verstappen, holding them back.
One upside of those early problems meant Red Bull began development on their 2018 model very early on, and Horner is convinced they will not have a repeat of those woes next season, as long as Renault can make the progress they are predicting with their 2018 power unit.
That would then give Ricciardo and Verstappen the chance to fight it out for the championship with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, which would produce one of the most exciting and close racing seasons in a long time, in the sport.
“In Max and in Daniel, and in Sebastian Vettel, you’ve got some fantastic drivers who are able to go wheel to wheel [with Hamilton].
“I feel confident that our drivers have the ability to do that, if we can give them the tools, to go shoulder to shoulder with him and hopefully that will be good for the sport.”
Horner also believes driver Verstappen is “a champion in waiting” with the talent and time on his side to ultimately emulate Hamilton and Vettel with their four world titles and then some.
“Sebastian achieved four in a row with us, he’s only just 30. Lewis has just achieved four, he’s in his early 30s and one would assume that he’s going to achieve more.
“Max is only 20. I think if we can give him a competitive car, he absolutely is a champion in waiting. You can see in the great drivers that they stand out at big moments and Max is doing exactly that.”
Red Bull’s previous line-ups include Ricciardo racing alongside four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who in turn was teammates with Mark Webber from 2009.
Webber spent two seasons alongside David Coulthard, who had been with Red Bull since its takeover of Jaguar for 2005, partnering Christian Klien, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Robert Doornbos.