Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner has praised the "phenomenal" standard of racing between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc across the opening two races of the 2022 season.
The two drivers went wheel-to-wheel on several occasions in both the Bahrain and Saudi Arabian Grands Prix, with Leclerc winning in Sakhir as Verstappen hit trouble, and the Dutchman overhauling Leclerc to take victory in Jeddah.
While Verstappen's title win last year came after a titanic scrap with Lewis Hamilton, early signs are that Ferrari and Leclerc will be Red Bull's main rivals in 2022, and Horner discussed the prospect of a rivalry between the two drivers, who are the same age and have raced against each other since their karting days.
"In sport, everything evolves and that's always the case," Horner told Sky Sports.
"Ferrari have been quiet the last couple of years, but they've come up with a really competitive car this year.
"You're seeing two fantastic young drivers going head-to-head in competitive F1 cars, and the racing in the first two races has been phenomenal.
"You can see there's a respect between the two of them and the sample of the first two races has been really exciting."
Horner hails "massive" Jeddah result
In addition to Verstappen's win, Perez also showed well in Saudi Arabia, taking his first-ever pole position on Saturday. The Mexican finished Sunday's race in fourth, but might well have been higher had he not pitted immediately before a Safety Car deployment.
After the race, Horner said that Red Bull's strong performance showcased both the team's competitiveness in F1's new era, and its ability to produce race-winning cars in both 2021 and 2022.
"After the disappointment of Bahrain, knowing we had a competitive car and missing out on a podium, not once, but twice, that was a massive result for us to get that first victory [of 2022] for Max," Horner commented.
"Checo [was] so unlucky, but getting his first pole shows with these new regulations that we're right there, and that's thanks to all the hard work and dedication that's going in from the staff at Milton Keynes.
"I'm really proud of the job that our team have done. [Everyone] in Milton Keynes has come up with a fantastically competitive car.
"After such a gruelling year last year, the time that we had to do the research and development [for 2022] was less because we put so much into last year, so to be in a competitive position so early is really exciting."
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Horner backs Mercedes to come good
The emergence of Ferrari as Red Bull's main rivals comes as Hamilton and Mercedes have suffered a dip in form, with Hamilton finishing the Saudi GP down in 10th place as Mercedes continue to struggle with porpoising on the W13.
But despite the Silver Arrows' current struggles, Horner backed the team to come good and join Red Bull and Ferrari in a three-way scrap for race wins.
"Mercedes are going to be bouncing back soon, I've got no doubt about that, so we have to focus on ourselves and keep evolving and developing this car," said Horner.
"I think when Mercedes do get their problems sorted, they're going to be [running at the front], so that's potentially six drivers that are in contention every weekend, and I think for the sport and the fans, that's going to be fantastic."
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RacingNews365.com F1 journalists Dieter Rencken,
Mike Seymour, and Thomas Maher look back over the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix in Jeddah, which was won in dramatic fashion by Red Bull's Max Verstappen.