Max Verstappen has hinted that a move to Red Bull for 2017 has already been put on paper, prior to his shock call-up to replace Daniil Kvyat for the Spanish Grand Prix.
The Dutchman is making the switch from Toro Rosso after his Red Bull chiefs elected to move Kvyat in the wake of his troubled Russian GP.
Speculation had long suggested that Verstappen was favourite to partner Daniel Ricciardo in 2017 anyway, amid talk that his original contract meant he could be a free agent next year if he was not moved to Red Bull's main team.
Speaking to RTL4 television about if there had been a previous agreement about moving to Red Bull for his third year in F1, Verstappen said: "It was always the target, absolutely."
When asked directly if that had actually been put on paper, he paused briefly before replying: "In the end, yes."
Verstappen does not think there is any pressure on him to perform in the short term, as anything he does this year against Ricciardo will just add to his experience ahead of 2017.
"Of course you are going to compare yourself with your team-mate," he said. "I think it is good in the end to prepare myself for next year."
He added: "The problem in Formula 1 is that much depends on the car. So on one hand it's the same for everyone, if you have a great car then you are already competing better than another team."
Verstappen has not taken any of his former Toro Rosso engineers with him, with Xevi Pujolar having left the Italian outfit in the wake of the Dutchman's departure.
Speaking about that situation, Verstappen said: "I had a really good relationship and that's also important to do well. On the other side at Red Bull they have good engineers too otherwise you cannot achieve that [level] with such a team.
"So on one hand it's a pity, but on the other hand it's good to go into another adventure with new people, because in the end you have to learn to adjust."
Additional reporting by Tim Biesbrouck
Following the second race of the 2017 Formula One season, the Chinese Grand Prix, Graham Caygill addresses the big talking points from Shanghai.
On the basis of Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, Formula One fans and Max Verstappen will be hoping for more rain at races over the rest of the year. The Dutchman again highlighted his skill in the wet as, having started 17th, he was up to seventh in the damp conditions by the end of Lap 1, ran as high as second, before settling for third as his pace fell away compared to Mercedes-GP and Ferrari on a fully dry track. It was fun and unpredictable racing, and hopefully Red Bull Racing can improve their package so Verstappen does not have to rely on rain to be a challenger at the front.
Sainz rewarded for risk
If Verstappen stole the attention, the other driver punching above his weight was Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard took the risky decision to start the race on dry tyres when parts of the track were still very wet. Although he made a slow getaway, he was quickly up to sixth, and though he was passed for that place by the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, he finished seventh, the only racer not driving a Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull to finish on the lead lap. A fine achievement.
Reliability hurts McLaren
McLaren, when the car is operating, is a decent little machine, at least under Fernando Alonso. He was running in the top 10 before a transmission failure stopped him, while teammate Stoffel Vandoorne also failed to finish. The team and engine supplier Honda have major reliability issues, and the lack of testing miles in February, as Alonso confirmed, is hurting them.
Woe for Williams
The biggest disappointment was the Williams team. They impressed in qualifying with Felipe Massa sixth quickest and rookie Lance Stroll in 10th, but Stroll spun out on Lap 1 after contact with the Force India of Sergio Perez, while Massa struggled to heat up his tyres behind the safety car early in the race in the damp conditions and lost ground he was unable to regain, finishing 14th of the 15 cars to be classified.
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