Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes his team can be the main challengers to Mercedes next season off the back of strong showings from Max Verstappen and Honda this year.

Daniel Ricciardo left for Renault ahead of 2019 at the same time that Red Bull switched to the Japanese engine manufacturer, leaving Verstappen to step up as the more experienced driver alongside first Pierre Gasly and then Alex Albon. Verstappen won three races and took two pole positions – losing a third in Mexico due to a penalty – and Horner sees the performances of both driver and power unit supplier as setting Red Bull up for 2020.

“I think it’s been Max’s strongest year in Formula 1,” Horner said. “I think it’s been a transition year for the team. It was always going to be. The first engine change we’ve had in 13 years – and the partnership with Honda has worked tremendously well, from the first race, the podium in Melbourne.

“With each engine [that] has been introduced, we’re getting better and better. Reliability has been been strong. We’ve only had one mechanical DNF this year in Azerbaijan, and with each engine introduction, we’ve got closer and closer to the pace.

“The three pole positions, albeit we only kept two of them, three victories, nine podiums is a really impressive performance this year, with stability of the regulations going into 2020, hopefully we can be the challenger team next year. Mercedes has had another very strong year, very much the benchmark still, and it feels like we’re definitely getting closer.”

Horner attributes the combination of his team’s own car development as well as Honda’s progress as being key to a strong end to the season where Verstappen won in Brazil and finished second in Abu Dhabi.

“I think generally we’ve developed the car well this year,” he said. “I think Honda has done a great job with each each introduction on the on the power unit, but we know there’s still a gap to close to Mercedes and we have to keep pushing.”

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