(Reuters) - Max Verstappen reckons Italian Grand Prix winner Pierre Gasly is better off staying at AlphaTauri than seeking a swift, and potentially punishing, return to Red Bull as his team mate.
"Anyone can come back and try again but they will not succeed," the Dutch 22-year-old told Reuters in a video interview at the Tuscan Grand Prix.
If that sounds arrogant, or intimidating, it is not intentional.
As one of Formula One's hottest properties, and considered heir apparent to Mercedes' six times world champion Lewis Hamilton, Verstappen enjoys top billing at his team. He also tells it like he sees it.
In Gasly's shoes, Verstappen said, he would stay put.
Gasly, who has grown to become the clear leader at AlphaTauri, struggled at Red Bull last year before being demoted to the sister team in a swap with British-born Thai racer Alexander Albon.
His shock win at Monza last Sunday has raised speculation about another switch but Verstappen suggested Red Bull had more pressing priorities in the battle with dominant Mercedes.
"At the moment we are not fighting for the championship anyway so it doesn’t really matter," he said of the importance of having a strong team mate.
The Dutchman, a winner at Silverstone last month, has suffered two retirements but finished the other six races on the podium and has beaten Hamilton's team mate Valtteri Bottas four times.
With Ferrari struggling, Red Bull are the closest challengers but appear to have missed an opportunity.
"I think from the start already it was a lost opportunity," countered Verstappen, third overall. "The dominance Mercedes had from the start was very difficult to catch up with throughout the season."
"Now I think it’s all about just trying to settle for third."
Asked how many more wins he could hope for this year, he replied: "At the moment, on pure pace, none."
NO POINT SCREAMING
Verstappen said Red Bull, winners of four championships in a row from 2010-13, had not lost their way but needed to improve.
"I think Mercedes, when you are so far ahead you can stop developing a bit earlier in the year and focus on the year ahead," he said.
"Mercedes has a bit more time developing their new car and we are just not optimising everything we can in starting the season well."
Where once he was a young man in a hurry, impatient for success and frustrated at any setback, Verstappen now has an obvious maturity.
He knows there is no point getting worked up about matters beyond his control.
"I can be screaming every single weekend that we’re not winning but that is not going to help," said the youngest ever Formula One race winner.
"I think naturally you just accept the situation you are in and try to make the best of it and of course help and guide where you can to improve the car and hope that next year will be better.
"It will be harder next year, for sure, because McLaren will be running a Mercedes engine, Renault is definitely closing the gap," he added.
Aston Martin, the renamed Racing Point, also have four times champion Sebastian Vettel replacing Mexican Sergio Perez but Verstappen declared the jury out on that.
"I don’t expect Seb to be much faster than Sergio (was)," he said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)