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Red Bull F1 boss says Ferrari and McLaren pose threats for the championship

MONTREAL — Ferrari and McLaren present a serious threat to Max Verstappen and Red Bull’s hopes of winning the Formula 1 world championship this year.

That’s the view of Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who said Saturday ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix that the rival teams "absolutely" have the potential to dethrone Red Bull with more than half the season’s races still to come.

"There’s so many points on the board. They're both great teams; you can’t write either of them off," Horner told NBC News in an interview at the Red Bull suite in the paddock.

He said some aspects of the Red Bull car are weaker than its competitors, noting that "hitting curbs and riding curbs is definitely an area that we need to improve."

He said the "unicorn" year of 2023, when Red Bull won 21 of 22 races will probably never be repeated, and that there’s now fresh competition at the front of the pack.

NBC News’ Sahil Kapur sits down with Red Bull F1 team principal Christian Horner ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, Quebec. (NBC News via Red Bull)
NBC News’ Sahil Kapur sits down with Red Bull F1 team principal Christian Horner ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, Quebec. (NBC News via Red Bull)

"It’s such a long year. But every week it's somebody else," Horner said after Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and McLaren’s Lando Norris won two of the last three races. On Saturday, Mercedes driver George Russell took pole position in the Canadian Grand Prix qualifying, beating Verstappen.

"There's no patents in this business. So you can see that the concept of RB19 [Red Bull’s 2023 car] have been very much adopted by our competitors," Horner said. "And of course, you're going to get that. That’s normal in Formula 1, where you get convergence on a successful theme."

But despite the extra challenge for Red Bull, Horner said the closer competition at the front of the grid has upsides for the sport, and is "good for the impartial fans."

Horner also said he remains confident for the future despite the departure of Red Bull’s legendary car designer, Adrian Newey.

“Adrian stepped back a little over the last couple of years,” he said. “It is a great machine. He’s left us in great shape.”

Red Bull recently announced a two-year contract extension for the team’s other driver, Sergio Perez. Horner declined to discuss whether it's an ironclad commitment to keep Perez for two years or whether the team has the option to keep him for the second year.

"It's a two year contract, but the details of the contract we're never going to discuss in public," Horner said. "So all I can tell you is that the duration of the contract is for a two-year period."

He brushed back criticism from those who said Perez wasn’t the strongest option and that Red Bull should have signed another driver, perhaps Ferrari’s departing Carlos Sainz.

"We had a good look at Carlos. But you have to consider that Sergio has done a huge amount here in the team," Horner said. "They’re the most successful pairing Red Bull racing has ever had. They won two constructors championships, he played a role in Max's first drivers championship as well. And he finished second in the world championship last year. We’ve never done that before. So it was natural to extend that relationship."

And with Yuki Tsunoda’s contract in Red Bull’s second team extended, that leaves one seat remaining. Horner said it’s undecided whether Daniel Ricciardo’s contract will also be extended or whether reserve driver Liam Lawson may get the RB seat.

“As much as Daniel is competitive for the seat, we have some exciting juniors as well. So we’ll take a bit of time to consider options on that,” Horner said, giving no timeline other than by the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com