By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Max Verstappen is the best driver in Formula One on current form, ahead even of Mercedes’s five-times world champion and overall leader Lewis Hamilton, according to his Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.
The claim comes ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone, a home race Hamilton is favourite to win for a record sixth time.
Verstappen won in Austria at the end of June and the 21-year-old Dutchman has eclipsed his French team mate Pierre Gasly.
“As a driver in the form of his life at the moment, I think arguably for the past 12 months he’s been the best driver in the world,” said Horner.
“How do I substantiate that? He’s not in the best car but when you look at the results that he’s got out of that car since Montreal last year, some of the performances that he’s put in, he’s made virtually zero mistakes in that period.
“It’s only natural that there’s always the next generation coming. Lewis has got the benefit of experience, he’s still extremely quick, he’s in the best car, in a very well-oiled machine.
“For me Max is very much the coming man.”
Hamilton has won six of nine races this year and leads the championship by 31 points.
Horner said Verstappen, who is third overall and ahead of both Ferraris, had taken on the role of senior driver since the departure of Australian Daniel Ricciardo and was showing a new maturity.
He said the youngster was ‘giving it everything’ every lap and extracting the maximum from the car.
Asked whether he would still back Verstappen if he and Hamilton were racing as team mates in equal machinery, Horner agreed he would.
“From what I see here and now, I would absolutely back Max,” he said.
Verstappen has always been direct and to the point, as well as forceful on and off the track.
Last season he drew controversy and punishment for shoving French driver Esteban Ocon in the pits, his gestures caught on camera, after a clash at the Brazilian Grand Prix in November.
“He’s passionate,” said Horner. “That’s part of the reason people warm to him. He’s not afraid to say it as it is. Is that a bad thing?
“I’d rather have a driver that was like that, that had that passion and that fire in his belly and you can channel that. The sport’s crying out for more drivers like Max Verstappen.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Clare Fallon)