Red Bull's Max Verstappen has one question ahead of his first Formula 1 title

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen believes he's better prepared than ever both mentally and physically to take his maiden Formula 1 title – although a big question mark remains over the competitiveness of the new Honda engine he drives in 2019 for the first time.

Speaking ahead of this weekend's opening race at Albert Park in Melbourne, the 21-year-old Dutchman pointed to the experience gleaned in the 2018 championship as the primary reason for his confidence and in him believing he is a better driver.

"I just have more experience again compared to last year. I feel fit, I feel ready, and looking forward to it, this is what I love to do," he said.

"In F1 over the years I've learned a lot with tyres and how to set up a car … when you stay with a team for a few years you start to understand more what you like of the car and how you want to run it."

Maturation process

Verstappen has long had the pace – in 2016 he became you youngest Formula 1 winner when he was just 18 – but has been criticised for inexperience on-track, occasionally contributing to crashes or other incidents due to over exuberance.

Red Bull Racing boss Dr Helmut Marko earlier this year told journalists the young gun had matured.

"We had some discussions and patience is one thing for sure he will show and he also understands if he can't win, it's still important to get points and finish races - otherwise you won't win any championships."

Indeed the F1 championship is one thing at the forefront of Verstappen's mind; if he can win in 2019 or 2020 he will eclipse Sebastian Vettel as the youngest F1 world champion.

But the driver is only part of the Formula 1 equation for success.

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First time for everything

Verstappen is guarded on the pace of the Honda engine, which is being used in the Red Bull for the first time this year.

After years of reliability issues with other teams, most notably McLaren, Red Bull abandoned Renault in favour of the much-improved Honda.

"It's still early days," says Verstappen. "I'm happy with what we're doing at the moment and we don't have a lot of issues. We just need to be really consistent throughout the year. If we can keep this momentum going without too many problems it can be a promising package."

No off switch

Verstappen stepped up the intensity of his training over the off season to the point where he says he is physically better prepared.

"The type of training is the same, exactly the same - just a bit heavier and a bit longer."

Even in the off-season, where drivers can relax more, Verstappen says he never fully switches off.

"As long as you are in Formula 1 it's always on your mind. You can never really fully switch off, but that's fine. It always has to be in the back of your mind."

Even with the pressure of preparing for an intense F1 season, Verstappen still manages time to work with sponsors, including watchmaker Tag Heuer.

Track time

Late last year Tag Heuer released the Formula 1 Max Verstappen Special Edition 2018, with black and red highlights and a subtle Dutch flag.

"There's already one coming," he says of another watch venture, again with his input. "A few little touches from my side, I think it looks good."

But the focus has been on readying for the 21-race 2019 season.

The weekly grind

Verstappen trains six days a week twice a day, all with the aim of preparing for the physical challenges of wrestling an F1 car at up to 350km/h.

During a race F1 drivers can experience up to six times the force of gravity when cornering.

Verstappen says there is no comparison to driving a Formula 1 car.

"You can't compare anything with Formula 1 car… the braking zones, the high-speed cornering you have in a Formula 1 car, the amount of grip. It's a different world."

A final question

However, there's one question Verstappen apparently wasn't keen to tackle; of dozens sent to him as part of this interview his PR minder avoided the one about his relationship with former teammate Daniel Ricciardo.

The pair call each other friends but enjoyed some heated exchanges and clashes in 2018, setting the scene for tension throughout 2019.

Verstappen was quoted earlier this year as saying: "I won't miss him, but he was fun and pleasant to have as a team mate".

No doubt there will be more in the lead up to the Albert Park race in Melbourne this weekend.