Dutch ace Max Verstappen fields questions on Thursday ahead of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Picture: Charles Coates/Getty Images
Dutch ace Max Verstappen fields questions on Thursday ahead of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Picture: Charles Coates/Getty Images

WATCH OUT FOR MAX, LEWIS

RED Bull are on the charge and their former top driver, Australia's Mark Webber, is expecting a top season from the team's rising star, Max Verstappen.

After spending seven years with Red Bull from 2007-13 and winning nine races for the team, Webber still does some work for them.

He will also fill the role of analyst at Channel 10 in the upcoming Formula 1 season and reckons Verstappen is the one to watch this year alongside reigning champion Lewis Hamilton.

There was speculation in the off-season that the British driver, who won his sixth world title in 2019, could be on the move from Mercedes, with rival Ferrari one of the reported destinations.

But with all that specula­tion seemingly over, Webber said it was time to get down to business and predicted fans would be in for a bumper season - starting with the Australian Grand Prix this weekend at Melbourne's Albert Park.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium after winning last year’s Grand Prix of Hungary. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium after winning last year’s Grand Prix of Hungary. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

"It will be tighter than last year. I think he (Hamilton) will be pushed by Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc at Ferrari, particularly Max," said Webber, who also drove for Minardi, Williams and Jaguar in his 11-year F1 career.

"I think he could be great for Red Bull.

"Lewis is staying at Mercedes and I think he will break all the records that are ahead of him.

"I think the journos were pretty bored in the off-season, so they had to write a lot of stuff. Once the season gets going they can write about the facts and that's race results, race wins and race losses.

"I think that Lewis is the favourite for the year again.

"His motivation is incredibly high but he will not have it all his own way.

"Verstappen could be quite dangerous in terms of how strong he and the team will be.

"They need to look to getting five or six victories, getting more consistent."

Webber said F1 was in a good place, especially with the rise of young drivers "including the likes of Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz Jr, Leclerc and Verstappen".

"There are four young guys there who could be future world champions," he said.

"It's fantastic to see the younger drivers giving the more experienced blokes a run for their money.

"We have just seen it at the Australian Open tennis.

"Novak (Djokovic) still got the job done but he was pushed by a youngster in Dominic Thiem.

"It happens in lots of sport where you have the greats who are hanging in there and doing a great job and you have youngsters coming in and upsetting the applecart, and that's what we need ... some up-and-coming competitors who are capable of ruffling a few feathers."

Webber said Red Bull would do all it could to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari for the drivers' championship and the constructors' title.

Mark Webber is expecting a tighter contest in this year’s F1 season.
Mark Webber is expecting a tighter contest in this year’s F1 season.

"Red Bull is the interesting team," he said.

"Verstappen and the factory, from what I am hearing, are so ready to go and they are not beating about the bush about their expectations.

"They really want to fight Lewis for the title.

"In previous years it was a bit softer in terms of their positioning in terms of the public, but this year it's not like that. They know they have a job to do and they have got to try to keep Honda, their engine manufacturer, and they have to keep their main driver (Verstappen).

"There is a lot riding on the performances this year and let's hope it's good for them."

Webber does not expect Daniel Ricciardo to challenge for a title with Renault and wants some improvement from the Australian driver.

"He just has to be working hard for the team," Webber said.

"The biggest thing is Renault have to be in a position to work collectively as a team - they just need to keep working hard to close the gap to the top few teams.

"The results will then start to come and the belief will start to come. Not that he's lacking any belief.

"We know that he can do the job but we also know that it's a sport where you need the machinery and we know that the best drivers are in the best teams.

"So he needs to be in a position where he can get himself in the best equipment.

"We know that he will ­deliver and that is what he's going to aim to do this year."



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