Christian Horner believes winning the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship has "released" Max Verstappen, but the Dutchman disagrees.
Verstappen claimed his maiden F1 title in the Abu Dhabi finale in 2021, in controversial circumstances after a late safety car restart, and looks set to double his tally in '22, enjoying a 93 point lead with just eight rounds to go.
Red Bull boss Horner was impressed with his driver's dominance at the Belgian Grand Prix, but was contradicted by Verstappen himself post-race.
Verstappen "another level" - Horner
Since the start of the 2021 season, Verstappen has only failed to finish first or second eight times, including five DNFs, a third, and points finishes with damaged cars on two occasions.
He's picked up 20 wins, and with nine in 2022, is on course to smash the all-time wins record in a single season - currently 13 held by Michael Schumacher (2004) and Sebastian Vettel (2013).
And Horner believes his lead driver to be operating at a higher plane now he has a championship in the bag.
"I think that Max, since winning that championship last year has taken another step," he told media including RacingNews365.com.
"It's it's in many ways released him and he's driving at an incredible level.
"As far as the championship tables, they obviously look really healthy.
"If we look at his age and his experience, we are now witnessing a driver who is completely at one with the car and better than ever."
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Despite the praise from Horner, Verstappen was quick to refute that the 2021 title had "released" him.
"No, the title didn't set me free," he responded when presented with Horner's remarks.
"It's just experience and you also feel more comfortable in the car.
"It is also slightly better compared to last year, in general the car was good, but Mercedes was stronger and then you had to drive a little more on the limit - and now it's all a bit closer together," the 29-time Grand Prix winner explained.
"Every year you gain new experience, but you can't actually compare this year and last year - the cars are completely different to race with.
"Last year, Mercedes was stronger at this point of the year, but they did not always get the most out of the car.
"However as a team, we have always performed well, but again: you cannot compare the years."
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