Christian Horner expecting Lewis Hamilton and George to fight Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen is on course to successfully defend his world title.

Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, believes that Max Verstappen has come out of his title winning season a better driver.

The Dutchman went hammer and tong with Sir Lewis Hamilton for 22 enthralling rounds last year as he dramatically claimed the crown on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The win at the Yas Marina Circuit was his 10th of the season, and it meant that he became Red Bull’s first champion since Sebastian Vettel, who won four in a row between 2010 and 2013.

READ: Red Bull ready to use team orders to help Max Verstappen

Following the period of dominance in the early part of the last decade, the Austrian side are aiming to do something similar in the 2020s, and they are on course at the moment.

The 24-year-old, who became the youngest-ever race winner in 2016, has added another eight victories to his tally so far in 2022, and he leads Charles Leclerc by 80 points in the Drivers’ Standings.

Generally, he has stayed fairly calm during the tougher moments this year, although some frustration was evident over the radio in both Barcelona and Budapest when DRS and engine issues began to befall him.

He came back to win both of those races though, epitomising the fine form he has been in since the beginning of last season, and Horner believes the maiden title last year has only elevated that.

“I think in many respects it’s released him,” he told GPFans.

Article continues below

“That expectation of needing to win your first world championship, he’s achieved that, he has that on his CV now; anything that he adds to that is a bonus. 

“He’s just become more rounded, more experienced and has handled the pressure incredibly well, which is remarkable for a 24-year-old. I think it’s just generally, he’s continuing to evolve.”

There were natural questions ahead of this season as to whether the 28-time race winner would still have the same hunger now as he had last season.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff recently affirmed that winning championships can occasionally lead to complacency, but there has never been any sign of that from Mercedes, neither has that been the case with Verstappen this season.

Horner has no doubt that the Dutchman can win more titles in what is already turning into an incredible career, but it is still on Red Bull to give him the car to achieve that.

“Max is capable of winning many championships and I think he’s down to us to provide him with the equipment to do it,” explained the 48-year-old.

READ: Mattia Binotto explains why he’s ‘not surprised’ by Ferrari’s engine failures

Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez have faced stern tests from the Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz this season.

With Hamilton and George Russell beginning to come into the picture for Mercedes, Horner is aware that the push has to continue in the final nine rounds of the 2022 season.

“He’s doing a super job this year, Ferrari are tough competitors,” he stated.

“They’ve also got two quick drivers, Mercedes are sorting themselves out and they could well be back in the game in the second half of the year. 

“There’s nothing that we take for granted, we have just got to keep that momentum running.”

The circus travels to Belgium after the summer break, where Verstappen is expected to receive plenty of Dutch support ahead of his home race in Zandvoort a week later.