Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner says the only thing about Max Verstappen that has changed since he came into F1 is his age.
Verstappen was the youngest F1 debutant in history when he joined Toro Rosso for 2015, and impressed enough to be promoted to Red Bull after four races of the 2016 season, famously winning his debut race for the Milton Keynes squad at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Since that fairytale debut in Barcelona, Verstappen has added 27 more Grand Prix wins and one World Championship title to his trophy cabinet, and in an exclusive interview with our associate website formula.hu, Horner said that Verstappen's speed was obvious even from his early days in F1.
"Max, from the very first time he drove the car, [had] incredible natural speed, great car control, huge self confidence, and that's not changed at all," said Horner.
"All that’s changed is his experience, and obviously maturity. He joined us as a teenager and now he's 24 years of age, so that's the only thing that's really changed."
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Horner hails positive first half
With 13 races of 2022 gone, Verstappen has a commanding 80-point lead in the Drivers' Championship, while Red Bull are 97 points clear at the top of the Constructors' standings, and Horner talked up his team's performance in the first half of the year.
"It's been a really positive first half of the year – eight victories, two Sprint race victories, leading both championships," Horner stated.
"But of course, it means very little. It's where you are at the end of the season that really counts.
"So whilst it's been a very encouraging first half of the year, it's now all about what we do in the second half of the season."
Mercedes expected to fight back
While Red Bull's 2021 title rivals Mercedes have taken a clean sweep of Constructors' titles from 2014 to 2021, the Silver Arrows have fallen back this year, relegated to third in the standings behind Red Bull and Ferrari.
Mercedes are yet to win a race so far in 2022, and Horner said he was surprised at the Silver Arrows' fall from grace, but cautioned that he expected them to close the gap to the frontrunners.
"I think we're all surprised that Mercedes weren't as close or weren't setting the pace, because they've been such a dominant team over the years," Horner continued.
"But they're obviously working on their on their issues, and it just shows how competitive it is.
"You can see they're getting closer to the action. I think at certain circuits they could well pose a threat later in the year."
Horner: Gratifying to race Ferrari
While last year's title battle was between Red Bull and Mercedes, the Silver Arrows' struggles mean it is Ferrari who have taken the fight to Red Bull this year, and Horner said he was enjoying the battle against F1's oldest surviving team.
"I think Ferrari is an iconic brand. It's all about what's happening on track, and it's very gratifying racing Ferrari," the team boss commented.
"The racing between Charles [Leclerc] and Max has been fantastic this year, and hopefully that will continue."
Horner also talked up the performance of Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez, who won the Monaco Grand Prix but has struggled in recent races, scoring only one podium finish in the last five Grands Prix.
However, Horner defended his driver and argued that Perez was still hungry for success.
"Checo is doing a great job. He's had a couple of tricky races but he's having a great season, that Monaco victory, the pole position in Jeddah. He's performing incredibly well," said Horner.
"His pace is qualifying has made a big step this year. That pole position in Jeddah was outstanding. So, he's still pushing himself hard and very, very motivated."
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