Max Verstappen may have new rival to F1 throne as Red Bull impressed

Hamilton opens up on plans to remain in F1 ahead of new season

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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has suggested that Aston Martin could be set to emerge as their biggest contenders as Max Verstappen seeks another Drivers’ Championship triumph over the next few months. The Dutchman is the early favourite to claim the end-of-season honours for a third successive year after impressing in pre-season testing and will be looking to make the perfect start to his title defence by winning next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

Red Bull looked a cut above their rivals over the course of last week’s three-day test and will seemingly go into this year’s curtain-raiser at the Bahrain International Circuit with the quickest car on the grid. However, it has been claimed by Horner that Aston Martin could be the ones to watch in 2023 after being left impressed by their simulation data and impressive testing pace.

“I think they’ve made a big step,” said Horner when quizzed on Aston Martin’s recent progress. “It looks like their concept of car has moved them forward and they look like they’re not too far away, so Fernando [Alonso] in particular looks very competitive.”

The AMR23 looked both fast and reliable in the hands of Alonso and reserve driver Felipe Drugovich in testing, with Lance Stroll being forced to sit out due to an injury suffered in a bike accident earlier this month. Aston Martin’s new car is also the first to have been constructed under the technical leadership of Dan Fallows, who previously worked as Red Bull’s chief aerodynamicist.

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Alonso will be expected to lead the charge for the historic British team after replacing Sebastian Vettel following the latter’s retirement at the end of last season. The veteran Spaniard brings a wealth of title-winning experience to Aston Martin and is still fully capable of securing plenty of points if he is given the right machinery after impressing for Alpine over the last two years.

Horner went on to explain that he is not yet sure on what the competitive order is, with Ferrari and Mercedes likely to join Red Bull in the top three at the start of the season, but insisted that he remains fully confident in Verstappen to push for another Drivers’ Championship title over the course of the upcoming campaign.

“It’s very difficult to say [what the pecking order is],” added Horner. “Ferrari look like they’re quick. Mercedes’ form is difficult to read at the moment. Are they holding something back? We’ll see this time next week.”

It remains to be seen how the battle for F1 supremacy will shape up when the new season gets underway, with Red Bull looking very much like the team to beat once again based on their performances in pre-season testing. Ferrari also looked dangerously quick as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz more than held their own on Friday and Saturday, while Mercedes eventually managed to get themselves in the mix in a strong final-day recovery after a hydraulic leak just 24 hours earlier.

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