Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo can go “shoulder to shoulder” with Lewis Hamilton if Red Bull provide them with a title-contending car in 2018, according to Christian Horner.
This season has been dominated by the title battle between Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, which the Englishman settled in Mexico last Sunday, but the mouth-watering prospect of Verstappen and Ricciardo joining F1’s now two four-time world champions in a title fight next year has been heightened by Red Bull’s big improvement since the summer break.
Verstappen has won two of the last four races and Horner believes Red Bull have been the fastest car on a Sunday in that time – and will be in even better shape next season if Renault improve their engine performance.
“If we can take the lessons learned out of the RB13 into the RB14 – and with better reliability – I don’t see any reason why both of our drivers shouldn’t be able to give Lewis and Sebastian a hard time,” the Red Bull team boss told Sky Sports News’ Craig Slater.
The Mexican GP driver ratings
Hamilton hailed by fellow drivers
Horner has paid tribute to Hamilton’s “phenomenal achievement” in taking this year’s title, but is adamant that his two race-winning drivers should be able to run the Mercedes man closer next year.
“[Hamilton] is obviously right at the top of his game so hopefully he will be around for a few more years,” he added.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen secured his second victory of the season by winning the Mexican GP
“But I think in Max, in Daniel, in Seb, you have got some fantastic drivers there that are able to go wheel to wheel.
“I feel very confident in our drivers having the ability to do that if we can give them the tools to go shoulder to shoulder with him and hopefully have a great fight which will be great for the sport.”
Having qualified 1.3 seconds off pole position at the season-opening race in March, Red Bull’s strong in-season development rate has proved one of the season’s most impressive feats.
Verstappen in particular has relished that shift in form, enjoying a 2017 turnaround of his own after the first half of his season was blighted by a lack of reliability.
Ted Kravitz gave his thoughts on Sunday's action packed Mexican Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton was crowned World Champion for a fourth time
And Horner sees the Dutchman, who has now won three grands prix, as a rival to Hamilton in the future, already proving that he is a “champion in waiting”.
“Sebastian achieved four in a row with us, he’s only just 30,” he said. “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.”
Lewis Hamilton joined the Sky F1 team after the Mexico GP to reflect on his fourth Drivers' title
Hamilton relishing Verstappen battles
While Hamilton has now tied Vettel as the most successful driver of this era, the Englishman is aware of the increasing challenge likely to be posed by Verstappen over the remainder of his career, a driver 12 years his junior.
“He’s really the brightest young star that we’ve seen for some time and I was hoping to have a bit of a battle with him [in Mexico] but it wasn’t meant to be,” said Hamilton.
“But there will be many more to come and I hope that in his early era that I can be a good force and a good battle for him.”
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