Max Verstappen has called on Red Bull to get within 0.2s of Mercedes at the start of the new Formula 1 season to allow him to put pressure on Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes started 2019 in dominant fashion and won the first eight races of the season, finishing one-two in the opening five rounds. Red Bull ended that run with Verstappen’s victory in Austria and he went on to win twice more – in Germany and Brazil – but was unable to mount a serious title challenge. With Hamilton going for his seventh drivers’ championship, Verstappen says he wants to put pressure on the Briton, and believes Red Bull needs to be within 0.2s for him to be able to do that.

“Of course I would like to start there, because then it’s really on. I’m looking forward to it, because I know that when everything is good together, then as a team under pressure situations – like in Brazil for example, or other difficult races like Germany – you can see that the team is really excelling compared to the others. So I’m also looking forward to when we get that fight and we are really close, then I’m pretty sure that we can be the better [team].”

Verstappen signed a new long-term deal at Red Bull over the winter and the 22-year-old said it was important to ensure that there were no distractions within the team that can be caused by an ongoing contract saga. Hamilton has said he’s yet to start talks with Mercedes.

“I always felt very comfortable in the team, and never really wanted to rush anything because there was no need,” Verstappen said. “I think it all went very quickly, so for me last year I never really thought about it too much and then we sorted it over the winter time.

“I think it’s also a good thing because it takes away any doubts. There are no question marks anymore. When you go into a season when your contract is up at the end of the year, at one point it is going to maybe be a little bit awkward towards the next car a year after. So I didn’t want to have any of that.

“For me, this is the right place. I feel really good in the team, there are a lot of good people in the team and I obviously see the motivation and hunger to fight for victories and a championship.”

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