Max Verstappen warned of Lewis Hamilton ‘hunt’ as Mercedes plot return
Red Bull designer Newey admits 2023 looks 'tough' amid testing restrictions
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Christian Horner has warned Max Verstappen and the rest of his Red Bull team to expect even tougher competition in 2023 after the team has put a target on its back. Formula 1 star Verstappen backed up his maiden world championship in 2021 with a successful title defence, but Red Bull chief Horner is wary of the task that awaits as they look to make it three in a row.
And it’s not just the obvious challengers like Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc who may pose problems for the current kingpins of the sport. Horner is cautious that even the smaller outfits on the grid could trip his team up in pursuit of another title, which would make Verstappen just the fifth driver to clinch three consecutive crowns.
“We go from being the hunters to the hunted now,” Horner told Sky Sports during Red Bull’s livery launch in New York. “We go into the season with No. 1 on the car as the defending world drivers’ and constructors’ champions. It’s the first time since 2013 that’s been the case for us. That’s added motivation.
“The year we had last year: 17 grand prix victories out of 22, two out of the three sprint races. It was a dream season, and it will be difficult to top.
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“I’m sure the quality of the opponents that we have, they’re going to be super competitive. And of course other teams as well looking to make steps forward, we don’t underestimate any of our competitors.”
Red Bull have known for some time that this season’s preparations would be adversely affected as a result of them breaking F1’s budget cap in 2021. The team was fined £6million for exceeding the cost limit, while also forfeiting 10 per cent of their aerodynamic development time.
The Milton Keynes outfit became the first team to launch its car in the United States when it unveiled the RB19 design in the Big Apple on Friday. And despite their pre-season setbacks, Red Bull will hope the new design is ready to preserve their place atop the F1 pile.
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Mercedes star Hamilton will be as motivated as ever to impress following the worst season of his F1 career to date, while George Russell is looking to build on his maiden race win in Brazil. Ferrari have made significant changes after replacing Mattia Binotto as team principal, with former Alfa Romeo chief Frederic Vasseur now tasked with steering the ship.
“We’re expecting Ferrari to be competitive, Mercedes are going to be there, [and] there’s some other teams that could well make some big progress as well,” added Horner. “This time of year, it’s all a big unknown, and it’s a question of focusing on ourselves, doing the best we can.”
The 2023 campaign kicks off on March 5 in Bahrain, where Verstappen will be seeking his maiden win on the ninth attempt. Both Red Bull drivers failed to finish in Sakhir last season, not that it impeded the team’s title ambitions much by the time November came around.
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