Mercedes, not Ferrari, to be ‘first rival’ – Verstappen

Max Verstappen says it’s “hard to tell” if Red Bull’s top rivals Ferrari and Mercedes will suffer as a result of their respective management shakeups.

The back-to-back world champion told reporters he is heading into 2023 without considering himself the favourite.

“I never really think about being the favourite because you have to keep working, you have to keep improving or else they will catch up and pass you,” the 25-year-old is quoted by El Mundo Deportivo.

However, Ferrari has ousted team boss Mattia Binotto over the winter and replaced him with Frederic Vasseur, while Mercedes has lost its strategy boss James Vowles to Williams.

“I don’t know,” Verstappen answered when asked what impact that will make.

“It’s hard to tell from the outside if it’s a good thing or a bad thing – is it going to interrupt their work? It’s true that when new people come in it always takes a bit of time to settle.

“But I think you can still get a lot of performance immediately anyway.”

Nonetheless, he thinks Mercedes is better positioned than Ferrari in terms of taking on the dominant Red Bull team.

“Ferrari will be strong,” said the Dutchman. “But how much? It’s hard to say.”

Verstappen thinks Mercedes is closer to making the big breakthrough.

“At the end of the year, sometimes it seemed like they were together and sometimes they weren’t. It’s hard to say if they understand everything fully now.

“For sure they’ll be our first rival. Lewis (Hamilton) has been one of the best drivers in the history of the sport, so for sure if he has the car to do it, he can fight for the title again.

“But that’s also the case for George (Russell). It’s the same for Charles (Leclerc), it’s the same for Lando (Norris). If you give them a car capable of winning the championship, they can do it,” he said.

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