Max Verstappen insists he can beat Lewis Hamilton to the Formula One title, saying Britain’s six-time world champion is “not God”.
The 22-year-old Dutchman could prove Hamilton’s closest challenger this year, following Red Bull’s strong finish to the end of last season and few changes to the sport’s technical rulebook.
Hamilton, 35, has dominated F1 in recent times, winning five of the last six championships, and will this year equal Michael Schumacher’s record haul of seven if he secures another triumph.
But asked if he can beat Hamilton over the stretch of a season, Verstappen said: “Yes. Of course, it is very car-dependent in Formula One. Lewis is very good. He is definitely one of the best out there. He is not God, maybe God is with him, but he is not God.
“When you can put the pressure on it is a lot harder for the guy in the lead. If he never really has pressure, he can drive at 97 or 98 per cent and then you never make mistakes.
“If we start the season within two tenths (of Mercedes), we can mount the pressure. I am looking forward to when we get that fight and if we are really close I am pretty sure we can do better.”
Verstappen resisted the lure of a move to either Mercedes or Ferrari by committing his long-term future to Red Bull with a four-year contract extension.
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Very proud and happy to announce that Red Bull Racing will stay my home until 2023. We started this journey together and they have supported me from day 1. Honda coming onboard and the progress we have made over the last 12 months gives me even more motivation and the belief that we can win together. I want to win with Red Bull and our goal is of course to fight for a World Championship together. This long term commitment shows we believe in each other and the best is yet to come #YesBoys
Hamilton’s next move is uncertain with his £40million-a-season Mercedes set to expire at the end of the year.
“It is a good thing my future is sorted because it takes away any doubt,” added Verstappen, who won three times last year and finished third in the championship behind Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
“There are no question marks any more. When you go into a season and your contract is up at the end of the year, at one point it is going to be a bit awkward. I didn’t want to have any of that.
“This is the right place. I see the motivation and hunger to fight for victories and a championship. Looking at this year we want to mount a challenge to Mercedes and I think we can do that.”
Verstappen’s Red Bull boss, Christian Horner, meanwhile, has backed the sport to make the right call over whether to cancel the Chinese Grand Prix.
The race is due to take place on April 19 but it is in doubt following the outbreak of the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 350 lives.
Horner said: “The FIA is F1’s regulator, Liberty Media is a promoter. They are responsible for the health and well-being, not just of the drivers, but all the staff and the travelling members of the sport.
“I am sure they will take the necessary due diligence before making any commitment about either delaying, postponing or cancelling the race. We have to trust their judgement and knowledge.”