Max Verstappen expects his rivalry with Lewis Hamilton to breathe new life into Formula One following the British world champion’s “boring” dominance of the sport.
In an interview with the PA news agency ahead of the second round of the season in Imola, a bullish Verstappen says he has all the tools to stop Hamilton from winning an unprecedented eighth world championship, and also indicated he will not quit Red Bull for Mercedes next year.
Verstappen, 23, is primed to take the challenge to Hamilton in what is hoped will be a rivalry for the ages.
Three weeks ago in Bahrain, the grid’s two brightest stars went toe-to-toe in the best season-opening round of recent memory, with Hamilton, in his inferior Mercedes, defying the odds to beat Verstappen.
Hamilton has won six of the last seven titles in a machine which has predominantly been the class of the field.
But speaking ahead of Sunday’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, Verstappen said: “F1 needs a proper fight because for the last few years it has been a bit boring.
“On the Monday after the race, as a fan you really want to be looking forward to the next one, knowing that there are two, or even three teams fighting for that win.
“I guess after Lewis won his last six championships where the battle was maybe not as high for him, now being a seven-time world champion and the most successful driver in F1, he really wants that battle.
“He has already achieved everything and way more than you can ever imagine. Winning those amount of titles is very rare and it is not going to happen many times.
“But he is like, ‘okay, I am getting towards the end of my career and it is nice to see the younger guys coming up and making it more difficult for me’.
“And, of course, from my side, I am very happy to make it more difficult for him.”
Hamilton, 36, certainly appears rejuvenated by the prospect of a title tussle with Verstappen, who some, perhaps prematurely, have claimed would beat him in an identical car.
His expert defensive drive in Bahrain moved him to a remarkable 96 victories, while he is just two poles short of 100.
In contrast, Verstappen, who fluffed his lines at the curtain raiser after he performed an illegal move on Hamilton for the win, has started just four of his 120 races from the front, triumphing on 10 occasions.
Is Verstappen confident he can beat the record-breaking Briton over the course of a 23-round season?
“Yes, I think so,” he replies. “I just need to be quick on the track and that will do it.
“Lewis has a lot of experience but that is fine, I am up for it. Lewis is a cool guy and a fair driver so we race hard and trust each other which is very important. We also have a lot of respect for each other and we enjoy the battle.
“But is there more pressure on me now? No, it is less because I have a faster car. Everything is easier. It is easier to put a good lap together, it is easier when you are at the front.
“There are no nerves when you start first because that is what I love. I like to be chased. I prefer that much more than hunting.”
Verstappen could secure his second pole in as many races this weekend with his Red Bull package potentially boasting greater one-lap speed than Mercedes.
However, he was dealt what could be a telling blow in second practice when he broke down in his Red Bull after completing just four laps.
The weather could also play a key role on Sunday, with rain forecast to arrive in northern Italy for the race.
Looking to the future, Verstappen has been linked with a move to Mercedes.
But Verstappen, already in his seventh season after making his debut when he was just 17, said: “I have a contract at Red Bull until 2023, and I am very happy where I am. There is no reason to change.
“I never think too far ahead because I want to live in the moment. I want to win races and championships with Red Bull and that is why I signed for so long. I feel at home here and that is very important to me.”