Wednesday 8 January 2020 5:35 pm

Red Bull and Max Verstappen are ready to challenge Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton for F1 titles

Max Verstappen’s decision, announced this week, to sign a three-year contract extension to stay at Red Bull until the end of the 2023 season is the biggest sign yet of the team’s intent to topple Mercedes.

The 22-year-old’s future was the subject of much speculation during the off-season until he committed his long-term future to the team which has already supported his career for more than five years.

Verstappen was the best of the rest last season, finishing third in the drivers’ standings behind the Mercedes pair, and Red Bull’s promsing second half of the campaign has raised hopes of a serious title challenge in 2020.

Read more: Ferrari left with plenty to ponder as disappointing F1 season comes to a close

The Dutchman had been linked with a move to Mercedes for 2021, but the decision to stay put suggests he believes this car is capable of delivering world titles again – if not this year, then when new rules take effect next season.

Team principal Christian Horner said it was important to keep Verstappen at Red Bull for “continuity” ahead of the wide-ranging changes to Formula One’s regulations and he will also be delighted to have retained one of the grid’s hottest properties when there appeared at least one seat available at both Ferrari and Mercedes from 2021.

The news comes just weeks after Verstappen’s long-time rival Charles Leclerc, 22, similarly committed his future to Ferrari, ensuring the two will continue to go head-to-head for the foreseeable future.

Ready to challenge

However, Horner, like the rest of the team, will also be eyeing success in the more immediate future.

Red Bull made major strides in 2019 and their relationship with engine manufacturer Honda appears to have been a key consideration behind Verstappen’s decision to stay, alongside loyalty to a team that afforded him a chance in the sport aged just 17.

F1 Grand Prix of Brazil
Max Verstappen won three races last year and Red Bull are ready to mount a serious challenge to Mercedes this year

“I am really happy to have extended my partnership with the team. Red Bull believed in me and gave me the opportunity to start in Formula One which I have always been very grateful for,” said Verstappen.

“Honda coming on board and the progress we have made over the last 12 months gives me even more motivation and the belief that we can win together. I respect the way Red Bull and Honda work together and from all sides everyone is doing what they can to succeed.”

The son of former F1 driver Jos Verstappen finished last season with three consecutive podium places, including a win, and had his best year yet in the series, amassing 278 points, three wins and six podiums.

Read more: Why does Lewis Hamilton not receive the recognition he deserves in Great Britain?

And Red Bull motorsport chief Helmut Marko has wasted no time in building expectations for this season by stating the battle for the title will be between Mercedes and Red Bull, saying his team now have “no excuses”.

Marko has also praised the performance of the Honda power unit in pre-season testing.

“If the others teams want to be better, they’ll have to make dramatic gains,” he told German outlet Auto Motor und Sport. “Max knows what is going on at Honda. He has already seen the new car and he appreciates the continuity in the team. In the end, there was a common will between him and us.”