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Lewis Hamilton warned Max Verstappen fitter than ever but Red Bull have Mercedes concern

Max Verstappen is “readier than ever” and is in peak physical condition as he looks to bring an end to Lewis Hamilton‘s monopolisation of the Formula One Drivers’ Championship in 2021, says Christian Horner. The new F1 season gets underway with the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.

Hamilton enters the latest season looking to clinch what would be a fifth successive world title and his eighth overall.

That would see him surpass Ferrari icon Michael Schumacher to become the outright record title-holder having already overtaken the German for most race wins and pole positions.

Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes will hope to prove otherwise but all eyes are on Verstappen if Hamilton’s dominance for the Silver Arrows is finally to be disrupted this year.

The Dutchman and Red Bull enjoyed a strong pre-season while Mercedes had some problems, stirring optimism that Hamilton will posed a year-long challenge across the full 23-race calendar.

Yet Red Bull team principal Horner insists that the Milton Keynes-based outfit are wary of the undeniable quality of Mercedes, who have snapped up the last seven straight Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships.

“Of course, the big news over the winter was the arrival of Sergio [Perez] to the team,” Horner wrote in his first column of the 2021 season for the Red Bull Racing website.

“He has settled in quickly and while he is experienced, he is also a laid-back character. He knows what he wants and has 10 seasons of F1 under his belt.

“As for Max, he is in good shape and looking really sharp. He hit all his fitness targets at the pre-season training camp in Red Bull’s facility in Austria and is readier than ever for the start of the season.”

Horner continued: “There is no denying that after the smooth running of the three-day test in Bahrain, there seems to be an excitement out there that we can end Mercedes’ seven-year dominance of F1.

“But we had a debrief within the team after the test and it is fair to say we are a little more cautious on the subject and we cannot underestimate the size of the challenge ahead of us on many fronts.

“We know that Mercedes have not won by mistake for the past seven years; they are a quality, class team that will be motivated to come back strong.

“We saw it a couple of years ago where there was a similar story during pre-season testing and then they smashed it out of the park at the first race in Melbourne.

“So, you cannot take anything for granted. And at this stage it is good that we have a solid basis from which to develop the car, rather than fixing an inherent problem.

“Of course, Mercedes are trying to move the spotlight away from themselves, which is all part of the game, but the reality is they are the reigning seven-time world champions and it is down to us to close that gap and put up a fight.

“They had one of their strongest seasons last year and this year’s car is an evolution of that, so let’s see what we all have in Bahrain and the rest will follow.”

Verstappen, 23, has won 10 races – one more than Mercedes rival Bottas – and was victorious in impressive style at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix back in December.

But the Dutchman, like Horner, is wary of underestimating the reigning world champions and insists it’s still unclear how Mercedes and Red Bull can compare in terms of true performance.

“I know people are excited and think we are just saying this, but Mercedes are still the favourites – how can they not be when they have won seven world championships in a row,” Verstappen declared.

“I’m sure Mercedes also want people to think we are the favourites and put the pressure on us but we are just focussed on ourselves.

“You can be sure that everyone in this team and at Honda is pushing to beat them and anyone else who may be quick this year.

“I see every season as a new opportunity to beat them, but we would be stupid to expect that fight to be easy and look at testing and think we are ahead.

“I personally can’t wait until we are all pushing in Q3, that is when you will see everyone at full power with low fuel.

“That is the time to see who developed performance wise and then in the race we will see who can keep that performance over a race distance. Let’s hope we can be good at both.

“Now I have to deliver and the team have to deliver so we can try and mount a title fight. We all know our roles and it’s good to see Honda and ExxonMobil have been pushing hard over the winter to make sure we have the best possible package in the RB16B for the season.

“I like the Bahrain track and it will be exciting to see our performance. It’s time to see who has got what.”