Verstappen feels ready to fight Hamilton for 2018 title
Red Bull's Max Verstappen says he feels ready to challenge four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton for the Formula 1 title in 2018.
Hamilton sealed his fourth crown in Mexico eight days ago, as Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel finished fourth, which wasn't enough for the German to stay in contention.
Mercedes driver Hamilton, who finished ninth after a difficult drive following an incident with Vettel exiting Turn 3, said afterwards that he is looking forward to battling it out with Verstappen, who won the Mexican Grand Prix in dominant fashion, next year.
"Yeah, that was great," Verstappen told Motorsport.com regarding Hamilton's remarks at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, where he was asked by Red Bull Racing partner Mobil 1 to perform a demo with the 2011-title winning RB7.
"He is a great driver and he really deserved it this year because he was the most consistent and fastest driver from the guys who were fighting for the championship. But yeah, I would love to [fight with Hamilton]. Hopefully we can do that already next year."
Verstappen is confident he can put up a good fight against Hamilton.
"Of course, otherwise I wouldn't be driving in Formula 1. I would do something else if I thought I was not able to do it."
Asked if he thinks he's performing at the same level as the Mercedes driver at the moment, Verstappen said: "Difficult to say, we are not in the same car and I haven't really been in the same position as him. And I also don't think about it. I just focus on what I have to do."
Never expected wins in 2017
The 20-year-old Dutchman won his second grand prix of the season just over a week ago at the Autodromo Hermamos Rodriguez in Mexico, after having triumphed in the Malaysian Grand Prix a couple of weeks earlier.
For Verstappen, the latest string of good results comes as a complete surprise, after having experienced a difficult year up to his win at Sepang.
"I would have never expected to win a race [this year]", Verstappen said. "But already in Singapore, with the fuel upgrade we had there, I think we got a lot more competitive and we continued that trend.
"And when you are improving faster than the others around you then you can fight for victory. But I never really expected it because of my bad luck and stuff, but it was great to still achieve that."
In Mexico, Verstappen grabbed the lead shortly after the lights went out by going round the outside of Vettel in Turn 1 and saw the German and Hamilton end up at the back of the pack after they made contact coming out of Turn 3, forcing both to make an early pitstop.
Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko told Motorsport.com that Verstappen would have also won without Vettel and Hamilton coming together and Verstappen agrees.
"Yes, absolutely", he said. "Because it was like a Sunday drive up front. I also had a lot of margin."
Fuel updates 'crucial' to success
For this season Red Bull switched from Total to ExxonMobil for its fuel and lubricants and Verstappen thinks the new supplier of the Milton Keynes outfit played a "crucial" role in the progress the team booked this season.
"We definitely saw the gains we made this year. They were a lot bigger than what we had the last three years. I'm very happy with that", Verstappen said.
ExxonMobil introduced fuel upgrades at the British and Singapore Grand Prix. On how these updates helped him in the car, Verstappen said: "More performance. Faster on the straights. And better life as well on the parts inside the engine.
"That's also very important, of course. And for next year, when we only have three engines, this will be very crucial."
"It's all about little details", Verstappen continued. "You do feel that everything is running smoother. But you can really see it on the data. I think that's the important thing."
Engine change a challenge for ExxonMobil
Red Bull Racing confirmed its switch to Mobil 1 race lubricants and Exxon Synergy race fuels in December of last year. For the US-based company this marked the end of a 21 year stint with McLaren in Formula 1.
Red Bull's chief engineer Paul Monaghan recently said that ExxonMobil's fuel and lubricants made the team advance roughly one grid slot in comparison since November 2016.
But the switch from Red Bull to McLaren - and going from a Honda to a Renault power unit - was far from easy, David Tsurusaki, global motorsports technology manager at ExxonMobil, explained to Motorsport.com.
"We actually had kind of a tough start", Tsurusaki said at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. "Well, maybe not a tough start but if we had more time we obviously could have done more.
"But with the short notice and short time to get ready we did a pretty good job getting our fuel and lubricants together by the early part of the season.
"And the fuel team and our Mobil 1 lubricants team are pretty good in understanding what's required for Formula 1. All we needed to do is kind of tweak our products to fit the engine and the design of the car."
"Changing engines obviously is a challenge", Tsurusaki continued. "But I think having a good starting point already with where we were in Formula 1, gave us a good step to make the final tweaks that were needed for this specific engine. So to get ready for Renault took a couple of steps for us. But after that we were right there.
"We did two upgrades on the fuel during the season. The second one started in Singapore and we were able to get a little bit more improvement. And we're already - fortunately already - working on the 2018 fuel."
Asked how big of a step ExxonMobil can make for next year, Tsurusaki answered: "Well, our target minimums are 0.5 percent so that's where we're shooting for. But each time we do a development step it gets harder and harder to do. But we're shooting for another 0.5 percent."
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