Red Bull boss tips Max Verstappen to shine in 2020
Red Bull team principal bullish about Dutchman's chances next year after transitionary 2019
When Max Verstappen won the Austrian Grand Prix last Sunday, the Formula One fraternity saw it as the end of Mercedes' 10-race winning run.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, however, saw it as a reaffirmation that he has a champion-in-waiting in his paddock.
"Max has been perfect in the last 12 months," said the 45-year-old at the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing headquarters in Milton Keynes, London, on Tuesday.
"He has driven incredibly well. He has driven with aggression, but with his head.
"His confidence is sky high, his skill is significant, and so we are starting to see the full potential of Max.
"You can see he is a very bright star for the future."
When it was put to Horner after the "home" victory in Austria's Red Bull Ring that, in Verstappen, Red Bull have the best driver on a grid that includes Lewis Hamilton, he replied: "I have thought that for a little while."
It was a bold proclamation, considering Hamilton and Mercedes' recent hegemony of the sport.
Only the legendary Michael Schumacher (seven) has more drivers' championships than five-time world champion Hamilton.
With Verstappen's agent Raymond Vermeulen suggesting that the 21-year-old has a break clause in his contract for next year, Horner was also keen to point out that the Dutch youngster will be staying with Red Bull.
With speculation that Ferrari and Mercedes are interested in the Dutchman, Horner insisted that after a "transitionary" year, Verstappen and Red Bull will be better-placed to challenge next season.
Verstappen is third in the drivers' standings, sandwiched between the two Mercedes drivers - Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas - and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc.
Austria was Verstappen's third podium finish, after Melbourne and Barcelona, and he has finished no lower than fifth this season.
Said Horner: "It is fantastic that in the first nine races, we managed to achieve three podiums.
"This has been a transitionary year for us. We moved from Renault power to Honda this year, and our fuels and lubricants partnership with ExxonMobil began in 2017.
"We can see harmony with our partners improving and that the overall product is getting better and better.
"We are looking to take all this experience into 2020... when F1 will have stable regulations.
"With the car finishing on podium, and now winning a grand prix, it is a fantastic achievement for all involved.
"To beat the (pacesetters) Mercedes and the Ferrari in Austria was a phenomenal performance by Max and the team, and we want to build on that in the second half of the season."
Verstappen might be earning plaudits, but his Red Bull teammate Pierre Gasly has been criticised after a poor start to the season.
The 23-year-old has finished no better than fifth this season, after moving from feeder team Toro Rosso.
But Horner was adamant that the Frenchman will come good.
"He probably has the best driver in the world with whom he is being measured against, and that has been tough for him," said Horner.
"We just need to help him through this difficult patch because... Pierre will come out the other side stronger."
Horner also played down speculation linking Vettel to a return to Red Bull - where he won four world championships.
He said: "We've enjoyed huge success and Sebastian will always be part of our history, but he's a Ferrari driver now.
"His focus is on Ferrari and ours is with our drivers... Who knows further down the road, but it's not likely at this point."