Max Verstappen believes that Toro Rosso’s impressive qualifying and early race pace in Australia proves it can be the third-fastest Formula 1 team behind Mercedes and Ferrari.
Verstappen and teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. qualified fifth and seventh respectively in Melbourne, and both ran well inside the top 10 in the early stages of the race.
However, a dud strategy caused both drivers to drop back, eventually leaving them P9 and P10 come the checkered flag.
Harnessing the power of the 2015-spec Ferrari engine, new for Toro Rosso in 2015, Verstappen was pleased with the pace that the team showed and thinks it can be best of the rest behind Ferrari and Mercedes.
“The car is competitive and I must take advantage of these opening races to earn important points,” Verstappen told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Given where we started in Australia, we now realize we can be the best team after Mercedes and Ferrari.
“It’s great that a lot of people are surprised by Toro Rosso. The car has improved thanks in part to the Ferrari engine.”
Verstappen, 18, became the youngest driver in the history of F1 in 2015 when he made his grand prix debut before going on to finish as the season’s top rookie.
The Dutchman said that he has respect for the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, both of whom have proven themselves to be team leaders throughout their F1 careers.
“Drivers that are comfortable with their team and know how to motivate them always stick out to me,” Verstappen said.
“Vettel is a great example of that. He knows who to work with the mechanics and everyone is on his side. I think that spirit is the most important thing for a driver.
“I always like Fernando Alonso because he remains the same person despite winning a few world titles. I hope that is what happens to me as well.
“While other drivers have changed, Fernando is the opposite along with Vettel.”