Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has said Max Verstappen is the driver Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton "fears the most" in 2019 and believes the 21-year-old is ready to deliver a competitive title challenge.
The Dutchman was the only driver to finish on the podium in the final five races of 2018, overtaking world champion Hamilton on track at some point of the final three rounds, and his team boss reckons Verstappen is more equipped to succeed than ever.
"If you look at his performance in the second half of the past year, he was the second highest points scorer to Lewis", Horner told reporters as preparations for the new season continue.
"Red Bull Technology has been working with Honda for 12 months, so we've had a good look at their evolution and they're on a good way", he said.
They also have a changed line-up, with Australian Daniel Ricciardo now donning yellow Renault overalls and replaced by young Frenchman Pierre Gasly alongside Dutch driver Max Verstappen. We would rather see consistent evolution, and if that means taking a penalty or two along the way, as we saw past year the impact of those penalties at the right venue can be fairly minimal. "He's just in a better place to be able to deal with the pressures that are placed on him". He is worldlier, more experienced.
Asked about Verstappen's public service punishment for his actions in Brazil, which saw him forced to attend a Formula E race in order to observe the work of the stewards, Horner admitted that it was an enlightening experience for the youngster. "Whether you penalise or not.' I think that was actually a useful exercise for him to see the other side of the fence", said Horner.
"Charles is a really exciting talent".
"Lewis is at a different stage of his career", Horner said.
"But for sure I will get better through the season and that's fair to say".
Having entered F1 in late-2017 with the junior team, Gasly's only race experience in F1 comes with the Italian outfit. "[We have been in] very much a customer supplier relationship where effectively we were paying for a first class ticket and you get an economy seat".