Mercedes have outlined Max Verstappen’s qualities as they prepare to fight against him in the World Championship battle.
Verstappen was involved in a tense and tight battle with Sir Lewis Hamilton in the season opener at the Bahrain Grand Prix, with just seven tenths separating the pair as they crossed the finish line.
But, the Red Bull driver was forced to settle for second best despite sticking the RB16B on pole in a very convincing manner and passing Hamilton for the race lead with four laps to go – although that was deemed to be an illegal overtake by the race stewards and Verstappen was ordered to give the place back.
Imola will provide the next battleground for Mercedes and Red Bull this upcoming weekend and the Silver Arrows’ trackside engineering director, Shovlin, praised Verstappen when discussing the strengths of their main title rival.
“There’s no doubt Red Bull operate really well,” Shovlin said, as quoted by RaceFans.net.
“They’re a sharp, well-focussed team that don’t make many mistakes.
“Max is clearly a very mature, very smart racer now and he’s difficult.
“And they develop well, they’ve shown over every season that they’ve got the capacity to put a lot of performance on the car.
“So regardless of the start point, this is not going to be an easy championship.
“It’s going to be tight and it’s one that we’re not going to give up on. And they’re going to tell you the same.”
Shovlin also referenced the 2018 season as an example of Mercedes not starting the year in the possible shape. Both Red Bull and Ferrari won races before Mercedes picked up their first win of the season at round four, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku.
“I think we were four or five races in before we went to race,” Shovlin added.
“Some of those we didn’t get everything perfect but some of them Ferrari were just better than us, race and quali.
“So we’ve had some tough years in the past few seasons, this is not alien to us, and it’s what we’ve got to work with.
“So it is two teams that look to be pretty much neck and neck at the moment so I think it’s going to be a tough year.”