Max Verstappen looks set to be involved in his first proper title fight this season, with Red Bull stepping up to the plate with their new RB16B. Both the Dutch driver and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton have won a race each, and the balance of power appears finely balanced as Formula 1 moves on to Portugal this weekend.
Verstappen is well known for his aggressive on-track manner, but there's a growing maturity there as well, with the 23 year old saying that he and his team will be taking a measured approach to the season.
"I think we have been pretty calculated in the first two races so far," Verstappen explained to RacingNews365.com. "Every race is different of course, but I think we know how to fight for the title. As a team and myself.
"You have to try to score points every weekend, even if you don't finish first. You can't afford to make big mistakes, especially with the gap between the two teams being so small. I think this (not making mistakes) is the most important thing."
Verstappen and Hamilton came perilously close to having a proper collision at Imola, with the Red Bull driver getting alongside the Mercedes into Turn 1 before braving it out to force Hamilton wide. It forced the reigning Champion to back off and, having also gone around the outside of Hamilton in Bahrain, it appears inevitable that contact will eventually happen between the pair.
"Hopefully not," Verstappen said. "I think we both have a lot of respect for each other and we will race hard against each other. But I think that's normal too."
"To be honest, I'm not so concerned with that. I always focus on myself and try to get the best out of myself. Of course it looks like it's between Lewis and me at the moment, but it's still a long season and a lot of things can happen."
There's a deep-seated respect between Hamilton and Verstappen, despite the Red Bull driver yet to reach elite status by winning a World Championship. Verstappen himself is a very public admirer of Hamilton's skills and achievements, particularly praising the Mercedes driver for his relentless consistency.
"He [Hamilton] is there every year," Verstappen went on, "that he is constant and makes very few mistakes."
But Verstappen stopped short of admitting that he has learned any lessons from his rival.
"Learning I don't think so, but I do watch him," the Dutchman stated. "Not only Lewis, also other drivers. But in the end you have to focus on yourself, because that's what you can control and influence."
Facing into a season-long battle with the relentless juggernaut that is the Hamilton/Mercedes combination, Verstappen knows it's a huge task that lies ahead. What are the key areas in which Verstappen feels the team need to remain focused?
"We have to make sure we manage to constantly improve as a team and continue to develop the car," Verstappen concluded, "because Mercedes will also continue to improve."
"We need to make sure we introduce more updates and better updates than Mercedes."
More parts of the interview with Max Verstappen will follow in the coming days. Amongst others about his relationship with Helmut Marko and Christian Horner, his future in Formula 1 and his love for sim racing.