Max Verstappen backs Red Bull to 'mount pressure' on Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes

The 22-year-old Dutchman could prove Hamilton's closest challenger this year, following Red Bull's strong finish to the end of last season

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 03: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing is seen in the garage during day one of F1 End of Season Testing in Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on December 03, 2019 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
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Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen believes he can apply pressure to defending champion Lewis Hamilton and mount a title challenge in the 2020 Formula One season.

The 22-year-old Dutchman could prove Hamilton's closest challenger this year, following Red Bull's strong finish to the end of last season and few changes to the sport's technical rulebook.

Hamilton, 35, has dominated F1 in recent times, winning five of the last six championships, and will this year equal Michael Schumacher's record haul of seven if he secures another triumph.

Yet, despite the Briton's relentless dominance, Verstappen is confident he can make life difficult for the Mercedes driver this season.

"Yes. Of course, it is very car-dependent in Formula One. Lewis is very good. He is definitely one of the best out there ... but he is not God," he said.

"When you can put the pressure on it is a lot harder for the guy in the lead. If he never really has pressure, he can drive at 97 or 98 per cent and then you never make mistakes.

"If we start the season within two tenths [of Mercedes], we can mount the pressure. I am looking forward to when we get that fight and if we are really close I am pretty sure we can do better."

Verstappen resisted the lure of a move to either Mercedes or Ferrari by committing his long-term future to Red Bull with a four-year contract extension.

Hamilton's next move is uncertain with his £40 million (Dh191m)-a-season Mercedes deal set to expire at the end of the year.

"It is a good thing my future is sorted because it takes away any doubt," said Verstappen, who won three times last year and finished third in the championship behind Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

"There are no question marks any more. When you go into a season and your contract is up at the end of the year, at one point it is going to be a bit awkward. I didn't want to have any of that.

"This is the right place. I see the motivation and hunger to fight for victories and a championship. Looking at this year we want to mount a challenge to Mercedes and I think we can do that."

Verstappen will be joined in the Red Bull garage by a fellow young driver, 23-year-old London-born Thai Alexander Albon, who will embark on his first full year with Red Bull having started the 2019 season at sister team Toro Rosso.

Albon has competed in nine grands prix for Red Bull and is yet to get on the podium, so how well he can contribute in disrupting Mercedes while assisting Verstappen could prove key to the Dutchman's title hopes.

Red Bull boss, Christian Horner, meanwhile, has backed the sport to make the right call over whether to cancel the Chinese Grand Prix.

The race is due to take place on April 19 but it is in doubt following the outbreak of the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 350 lives.

"The FIA is F1's regulator, Liberty Media is a promoter," Horner said. "They are responsible for the health and well-being, not just of the drivers, but all the staff and the travelling members of the sport.

"I am sure they will take the necessary due diligence before making any commitment about either delaying, postponing or cancelling the race. We have to trust their judgement and knowledge."

The new F1 season will begin on March 13 at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, with the final race of the year taking place in Abu Dhabi on November 29.