Having qualified fifth and ‘best of the rest’ for the Australian Grand Prix, the 18-year-old enjoyed a strong opening half of the race in Melbourne as he kept the slow-starting Lewis Hamilton at bay.
Although Verstappen eventually slipped down to 10th due to a botched pit stop, the Dutchman is confident the Faenza outfit, which runs year-old Ferrari power units this year, can mix it at the sharp end of the field.
“I expect a better season with even more growth,” Verstappen told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “It depends on a lot of factors. The car is competitive and I must take advantage of these opening races to earn important points.
“Given where we started in Australia, we now realise 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’s frustration at the miscommunication issue that cost him a better result in Australia was evident, with the teenager railing against Toro Rosso over the radio and asking for team-mate Carlos Sainz to let him through.
The tension culminated in Verstappen tapping the Spaniard at the rear, though this did not prevent both cars from rounding up the points-paying positions. Having already played down talks of a growing rivalry with Sainz, the Dutchman thinks their relationship will not suffer despite the stakes getting higher in the Red Bull junior outfit this year.
“We always want to beat one another on the track but that is normal amongst teammates. I don’t see it as a fight as I always want to improve. We’ve had some great moments away from the track and I hope that doesn’t change.”