Max Verstappen has challenged Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes to raise their game and provide him with the championship battle that Formula One needs.
Verstappen ran away with last season’s title, winning 15 of the 22 races, to secure his second championship with four rounds to spare.
In contrast, Hamilton, in his under-performing Mercedes, endured the worst year of his career as he failed to win a race and finished 214 points adrift.
But when addressing the prospect of renewing his rivalry with Hamilton at Red Bull’s season launch in New York, Verstappen, 25, said: “In the interest of the sport you always want the teams to be super-close.
“I do think it was close last year, but as a team we executed a lot of things better than the others and that was why the points gap was so big.
“I never felt, apart from two or three races, that we absolutely dominated. But for the general interest of Formula One, everyone wants a title battle with multiple teams involved.”
Off the back of his dominant campaign, and with only minor changes to the F1 rulebook, Verstappen will open his title defence in Bahrain next month as the driver considered most likely to triumph again.
But the Dutchman added: “I don’t think about being the favourite because you have to keep working and keep on improving because if you don’t they will catch up and overtake you.
“We want to keep winning and that is what we hope to achieve this year. I know it will not be straightforward but we do have a good opportunity. We are optimistic but we have to keep improving.”
On Friday, Verstappen’s Red Bull team announced an engine partnership with Ford which sees the American giant return to the grid after two decades away.
Ford terminated its involvement in F1 when it sold Jaguar to Red Bull 19 years ago, but the American car maker has been keen to jump on the surge in popularity in the sport in the United States following the success of Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’ series.
However, Ford’s comeback, which comes into force with the sport’s 2026 change in engine regulations, will primarily be an advertising exercise, with Red Bull to remain in control of its own power units, built at its Milton Keynes headquarters.
“Last year was an extraordinary year and nobody could have predicted Red Bull would have 17 wins from 22 grands prix,” said team principal Christian Horner.
“It was the most successful year in our history, but it will be difficult to repeat those kind of statistics, and this year is going to be a lot tougher and it is going to be a lot tighter.
“The regulations are relatively stable, the grid will converge, and we have got some very capable rivals. I fully expect it to be a lot more competitive.”
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