Max Verstappen says that among Red Bull’s rivals, it’s McLaren that currently has the best driver line-up as a whole with Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.
Verstappen saw a lot of the pair in Qatar, where they joined him on the podium on both days with Piastri claiming his maiden F1 race win in Saturday’s sprint event, and Norris finishing third in both that and the Grand Prix.
Verstappen was clearly impressed by their efforts, crediting the talented drivers for the team’s overall improvement and success every bit as much as the hugely improved MCL60.
“I do think that as a team they are probably the most consistent, compared to the others behind us,” Verstappen told the media this week. “They have the best driver line-up out of all of them, they are operating really well.”
McLaren had a poor start to the season with their initial chassis, but are now closing on Aston Martin for fourth place in the constructors championship with an outside chance of catching Ferrari for third by season’s end.
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McLaren’s success last weekend saw them out-score Aston by 39 points, leaving the gap between the teams just 11 points with five races remaining. But Ferrari are still 79 points ahead, making that a very tall order indeed.
“It’s going to be interesting to the end of the year,” Verstappen acknowledged. “But also I think the start of next year, to see where everyone is at.”
Verstappen of course has no reason for concern in 2023, with Red Bull having claimed the constructors crown in Japan and Verstappen confirming his third consecutive drivers title in Qatar.
He appeared to take it relatively easy in Lusail, perhaps minded of the suffocating conditions that left many drivers prostrate on the ground or on their way to the medical centre for dehydration.
Red Bull’s usual dominance was also disrupted by issues with tyres, which resulted in Pirelli mandating a maximum 18-lap run on each set for the Grand Prix.
But even with those factors in mind, Verstappen agreed that McLaren were much closer to Red Bull in the most recent race.
“McLaren is making great steps forward throughout the whole year,” he insisted. “I do think we had a bit more pace in hand if we really needed it, but nevertheless I don’t want to take anything away from them..
“They’ve been doing a great job. We see that they are getting closer and closer, so we have to try and maintain a bit of a gap,” he continued. “We’ll try to improve a little bit this year, but of course mainly for next year.”
The smart money remains on Max Verstappen and Red Bull to continue their run of titles in 2024, but McLaren’s resurgence with Norris and Piastri suggests that they might have to wait until much later in the campaign to pull it off.
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