Mercedes identify Verstappen as main 2020 championship threat

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Mercedes boss Toto Wolff does believe Max Verstappen will be the main threat for the championship in 2020.

This week, the Brackley-based looked as dominant as ever as pre-season testing began in Spain, but it was notable that neither Red Bull or Ferrari seemed to push their cars to the same degree the German manufacturer did.

This was somewhat reflected in the times with Mercedes setting the headline pace through Valtteri Bottas on Friday, but on the race simulation, the performance was not too dissimilar around the 1m21s bracket, though Lewis Hamilton was more consistently in the 1m20s.

Weighing up the competition earlier in the week, however, Wolff believes there will be a key motivation that will make the Dutchman even more eager to win.

"I think Red Bull because Max can be the youngest world champion if he wins and I think that Red Bull and Helmut will put a massive emphasis on this," he claimed to Sky Sports.

“It would be a nice thing for them, so I believe Red Bull are going to be the ones focusing a lot on 2020.”

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Also keen for more competition is Hamilton himself, after wrapping up the title with two races to go the past three years.

"I race because I love racing other cars," the six-time champion said. "I don't like driving around on my own on the track, that's for sure.

"I'm hopeful that in this last year of this era of car, the gap has closed. You saw it at the end of last year, the gap was closing between Ferrari and Red Bull and I anticipate that will be the same this year, we're going to have a closer battle and I'm down for that.

"That's what I think everyone wants to see and, from my point of view, it makes it more rewarding when it goes the way that I want it to go."

This year does see Hamilton and Mercedes attempt to make history by winning a seventh championship, yet when asked about motivation, Wolff believes the number is now no longer relevant.

“I think in some weird way we are beyond the numbers,” said the Austrian. “It is about enjoying what we do and trying to develop the team and push the needle.

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