Daniel Ricciardo concedes Max Verstappen’s improvements since stepping up to Red Bull puts them on an even footing in the hunt for maiden Formula 1 world titles, but wants the team to be in the championship fight regardless of his team-mate relationship.

Since Verstappen graduated from Toro Rosso and won on his Red Bull debut at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix Ricciardo feels the Dutch driver has added greater consistency to his outright pace and relishes a ‘fun’ fight inside the Red Bull squad.

With Verstappen signing a new deal to stay at the team until the end of 2020, the 20-year-old is considered the priority for Red Bull with Ricciardo assessing his options beyond 2018 when his contract expires.

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While Ricciardo accepts the threat Verstappen can pose to his F1 world title ambitions at Red Bull, the Australian is eager to see the team become regular championship contenders against Mercedes and Ferrari before worrying about his team-mate.

“We’ve learned a lot this year and I believe we’re going to put in the right work in the winter to start strong,” Ricciardo said. “Max improved this year from last year.

“I won’t say came a long way because he was always there but he certainly improved and I think next year it’s going to be a lot of fun, so I’m looking forward to that. It would be a good problem to have.

“If we’re both fighting at the front and having some battles. If it’s ultimately deciding a world title we would happily run with that challenge.

“I believe next year we will close the gap. Is it enough to fight for a title? I think we can certainly get close but we’ll see. I don’t want to predict too early.”

Despite Verstappen winning two races in 2017 to Ricciardo’s one, the Australian driver outscored his Red Bull team-mate by 32 points by the end of the season with the pair finishing fifth and sixth respectively in the F1 world drivers’ championship.