Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner believes that Max Verstappen should consider the benefits of a long-term future with the Milton Keynes outfit, as the Dutchman has the opportunity to build a team around him.
Verstappen has been linked with both Ferrari and Mercedes beyond 2018, but Horner suggests that rather than joining Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton, he would be better off staying put.
“I think he can see the strength and depth of the team,” Horner told Motorsport.com. “He feels comfortable in the team. He’s the youngest grand prix winner, he’s the youngest double winner, he’s the youngest points scorer.
"And Lewis is pretty set at Mercedes, Seb has signed for three years at Ferrari. The obvious thing is to build a team around you. But it’s down to us to provide him with a competitive car.”
Asked if he thought Verstappen would really want to go head-to-head in the same team as Vettel or Hamilton, Horner said: “That’s a question only he can really answer.
"We all want to be in a competitive position, and I think that the way we’ve developed this chassis this year, we’ve put a serious amount of performance on the car, and we’ve out-developed our opposition from our starting point to being grand prix winners on merit. We need to keep that trajectory going.”
Three places higher
Horner believes that Verstappen will gain from enduring a character-building 2017 season that has seen him retire seven times in 16 races.
He reckons that, without the mechanical issues and the first-lap incidents, the Dutchman would now be lying third rather than sixth in the world championship.
“There were so many races this year when he was in a fantastic position to achieve big results.
“He’s had four mechanical issues, all engine problems. If you look at the points lost, he should be sitting a pretty close third in the championship at the moment.”
“Credit to him that at such a young age he hasn’t let frustration boil over, he’s kept his head down, he’s kept plugging away, and as I always said, when it comes right for him, it’s going to come right in a big way. And that’s exactly what happened in Malaysia. He drove a great race there, with no issues."
With Verstappen only in his third year in grand prix racing, Horner feels his performances have been "phenomenal" for his level of experience.
“It’s quite astounding that he’s only just turned 20. Just look at the following he has in F1 now. He’s one of the most, if not the most popular driver in F1.
"I think he’s growing in all areas. He has so little experience in car racing per se that every weekend he’s learning and getting stronger.
“There’s no shortcut to experience. He’s now close to completing his third grand prix season, and you look at the level he’s performing at, it’s phenomenal, and what’s exciting is what the future holds for him.”