(Reuters) - Red Bull's Max Verstappen shrugged off a suggestion he was favourite for a third successive Formula One championship and said on Friday the sport needed a closer battle than last year even if he intended to be better than ever.
Verstappen won 15 of 22 races in a 2022 season that was his team's best yet with Mexican team mate Sergio Perez adding two to the tally.
Rivals and runners-up Ferrari won four races and once-dominant Mercedes, third overall, just one.
"As a driver you always try to look at yourself, what can you do better and you try to come back stronger every single year even though sometimes that's a hard task," he told reporters after the team's livery launch in New York.
Asked how keen he was for Mercedes to get back into the fight, with seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton failing to win a race in a season for the first time in his career, Verstappen replied:
"I think in the interests of the sport you always want the teams to be super-close. But I do think it was already quite close last year.
"I think as a team we also really executed a lot of things better than the other teams and that's why I guess the points gap was also so big. I never really felt, apart from two or three races, we absolutely dominated the whole weekend.
"But for the sport everybody wants to have a title battle with multiple teams involved."
Ferrari have changed team bosses since the end of last season with Mattia Binotto replaced by Fred Vasseur, while Mercedes have lost strategy director James Vowles to Williams as new principal.
"I never really think about being the favourite because you have to keep on working, you have to keep on improving because if you're not they will catch up and overtake you," said Verstappen.
"About people leaving other teams, I don't know. It's difficult to say from the outside if it's a good thing or a bad thing, is it going to interrupt their work?
"If new people come in it always takes a little bit of time to settle in ... but I think you can still get a lot of performance out of it straight away."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ken Ferris)