Verstappen: "I want to challenge for podiums next year"
Max Verstappen is adamant he wants to make a step forward in his career next year, as his goal is to challenge for podiums regularly in 2017.
The 18-year-old experienced a frustrating start to his second season in Formula 1, finishing 10th in Australia while a much better result seemed possible after starting from fifth on the grid.
In Bahrain, Verstappen bounced back by scoring Toro Rosso's first-ever points at the track, finishing sixth.
Last week in China, he managed to climb back up to P8, after losing a couple of places at the start and dropping further back the safety car came out in the early stages of the race and Toro Rosso had to double-stack in the pits.
Podiums in 2017
Verstappen made clear from the very beginning that his plan is to spend two years at Toro Rosso before joining a top team for his third season.
Although the young Dutchman continues to say that he is very happy with Red Bull and that it deserves his loyalty, there is also speculation that he could replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari next year.
"Of course, next year I want to challenge for podiums", Verstappen told Motorsport.com in an exclusive interview. "But at the moment I'm just focussing on this season."
Verstappen is widely expected to switch teams for 2017, but he doesn't want to rule out a third season at the Faenza-based squad just yet.
Asked if a change of team is necessary to fight for podiums next year, as Toro Rosso has been making some steady progress in the last few years, Verstappen answered: "Well, maybe. You don't know. For me, the most important [thing] is to focus on this season.
"But it's all looking very positive for the future as well. I'm happy about that and that's why I want to focus first on this season and then at the end of the season we will see what the next season will bring us."
Three years of learning?
Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost recently stated that a driver needs three years to fully understand the world of Formula 1.
When asked if he feels Verstappen is ready for a top team in 2017, Tost told Motorsport.com: "I don't know yet. Once more I just say a driver normally needs three years to understand Formula 1. If he is ready to jump to another team, it's in his hands."
Although Tost was mostly referring to all the things a Formula 1 driver has to deal with outside of the car and the added pressure that comes from that, Verstappen feels a driver should still be able to compete for podiums in his third year.
"The basic things about how to drive a F1 car, I think that's what you have to understand in your first year", Verstappen said.
"The second year is to perform and the third year you have to go and fight for podiums, that's how I see it."
"If we had a package like Mercedes now, we would be winning races as well", he continued. "
Then it's not about understanding the car, because you know how to go fast. If you have the right package around you, you will do a very fast lap. We just need a good car and then we are ready.
"At the end I think you learn a lot in your first season, I think that's one of the most important seasons in your Formula 1 career in terms of learning.
"From there on you have little steps all the time, of course. Every season you learn, even Jenson Button is still learning.
"But the most crucial one is the first."
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