Motor Racing-No one is going to catch Verstappen, says Mercedes boss

Formula One F1 - Japanese Grand Prix - Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, Japan - April 7, 2024 Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates with his team after winning the Japanese Grand Prix along with second placed Red Bull's Sergio Perez REUTERS/Androniki Christodoulou

SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - No Formula One driver will be able to compete with Red Bull's triple world champion Max Verstappen this year, Toto Wolff, team boss of their closest rivals last season Mercedes, said on Sunday after the Dutchman dominated the Japanese Grand Prix.

His frank assessment came after Verstappen finished the race at the Suzuka circuit almost 13 seconds clear of his team mate Sergio Perez and 20 seconds clear of the rest of the field.

"No one is going to catch Max this season. His driving and the car are just spectacular," Wolff said.

"Basically this season now is best of the rest ... hopefully we catch up to the McLaren and then the Ferraris and fight for P2. This is what it is this year."

Mercedes just pipped Ferrari to second in the constructor championship last season with 409 points but were miles off Red Bull's 806 point haul.

The team that boast seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton have had a troubled start to the year, lying fourth in the constructor standings behind also Ferrari and McLaren.

Hamilton finished ninth at Suzuka, with his team mate George Russell in seventh, after a tyre strategy that backfired.

Wolff said that despite the poor result the team had taken strides forward in terms of getting a better feel for the car, with Hamilton saying after practice it was the best he had felt in the car in years.

But Wolff said he took little satisfaction knowing the title race was effectively over already.

"If your expectation is to eventually race for wins and championships, then you can say we are in a bit of a no man's land," Wolff added.

"We are in this bunch but it is not satisfying ... If I was to look for a pure sporting point of view, it is P1 that matters, not P2 or P3 or P4," he said.

Asked about Wolff's comments, Red Bull boss Christian Horner praised Verstappen's confident performance but said it was too early in the season for other teams to throw in the towel.

"It’s very early to write off your year, there are still 20 races to go. I’ve learnt not to listen too much to what Toto has said over the years," Horner said.

(Reporting by John Geddie; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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