Toto Wolff says Red Bull are Mercedes’ biggest threat in F1 2020

“I think Red Bull and Helmut are going to give this a massive emphasis,” predicts Mercedes chief Wolff

Toto Wolff thinks Red Bull will be Mercedes’ biggest challengers in F1 2020, believing the opportunity to make Max Verstappen the youngest-ever world champion will be their driving force.

Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton made ideal starts to their bids to win their seventh Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships, topping the timesheets on Day One of pre-season testing in Barcelona, with Valtteri Bottas second. Mercedes also racked up the most mileage, completing 174 laps between their two drivers.

But Verstappen and Red Bull, historically slow starters during the hybrid era, also enjoyed an impressive opening day with the Dutchman completing 168 laps, although he span twice in the most dramatic moments of the day.

Red Bull finished 2019 as Mercedes’ closest threat, and with the regulations remaining stable, Wolff believes they will keep the most focus on 2020 in a bid for Verstappen to surpass Sebastian Vettel’s record as F1’s youngest champion.

“I think Red Bull [are the main challenge] because Max can be the youngest world champion if he wins,” the Mercedes boss told Sky Sports F1.”I think Red Bull and Helmut [Marko] are going to give this a massive emphasis, it would be a nice thing for them, so I believe Red Bull are going to be the ones concentrating a lot on 2020.”

Vettel was 23 years and 134 days old when he won his maiden world championship with Red Bull in 2010. Verstappen will be aged 23 years and 60 days at the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP in November.

Verstappen: We’ve improved where we wanted

Verstappen won three grands prix in 2019 and claimed his maiden pole position, and the Dutchman was in positive mood after the first day of running in Barcelona.

“We have definitely improved the car in the areas we wanted to,” he told Sky Sports F1.

“So now we just have to do a lot of laps and test all the parts out and see where we can improve it further.

“Hopefully it will be enough.

‘First indications of W11 good’

Wolff was encouraged by the start Mercedes’ new W11 had made to testing, but expects the balance of resources between 2020 and the 2021 season, and the subsequent regulation changes, to be pivotal in the championship race.

“We had a few weaknesses [in 2019]. We looked at all angles within the car, and Valtteri’s comments after this first morning were positive – the car has more grip generally, it feels together and I think as a first indication it’s good,” Wolff said.

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“In some weird way, we are beyond the numbers [of championships]. It is about enjoying what we do and trying to develop. We try to develop the team and push the needle.

“It’s not about the seventh championship, but it’s really doing every weekend as good as we can, because 2021 comes this massive revolution with a cost-cap and totally new technical regulations and we want to be fit for then while being very competitive in 2020.”

Wolff also believes there is “no reason” for Hamilton to leave the team at the end of the season when his current contract expires.

“It’s about keeping the feet on the ground. If it were to happen [Lewis win his seventh championship] I think he is very comfortable in this team and we enjoy working with him, so there is no reason to go, irrespective whether he wins the seventh this year or in the future.”

Can Red Bull sustain a title challenge?

Analysis from Sky Sports F1’s Ted Kravitz…

“Red Bull need to re-pay Max’s faith in them that they are the team that are going to be a Mercedes beater. Verstappen has committed [to 2023] as Red Bull have convinced him that, not only the car but also the engine is going to be a Mercedes beater. So Red Bull need to start delivering on that side of the bargain.

“I go back to the engine. We saw last year that the Ferrari was class-leading, then took a bit of a dip and Mercedes came back, and Renault think they are joining the party. They are the class-leading power units. Have we seen that from Honda at all kinds of tracks? I don’t think we have – we’ve seen them at some and Verstappen won some races last year with that power unit, but a lot will depend on that power unit being absolutely Mercedes and Ferrari beating at all kinds of tracks for Verstappen to mount that kind of championship assault.