Max Verstappen knows 2021 presents him with his best chance yet to become a Formula 1 world champion, but that doesn’t mean he is going to start shouting about it.

This year’s title fight appears finely poised heading into this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen separated by just a single point after sharing the wins in the opening two rounds of the season.

While Hamilton currently holds a slender advantage in the championship standings, it is Red Bull that seems to have the edge over Mercedes in terms of performance, particularly in qualifying.

Outscoring Hamilton in Portugal would see Verstappen come away from a race weekend leading the world championship for the first time in his F1 career. 

Yet despite being fully aware that his updated RB16B has the potential to take him to a maiden drivers’ crown, Verstappen is refusing to get carried away with such thoughts.

“It’s still a very long season so I don’t think about it too much,” Verstappen responded when asked how he feels about the prospect of being in a neck and neck title fight for the first time in his F1 career.

"I just want to do the best job possible every single weekend and try to make the least amount of mistakes possible.”

Verstappen insisted that he would still “feel confident" about his chances even if he hadn’t inflicted a defeat on Hamilton last time out at Imola, but there is evident modesty in his refusal to acknowledge that 2021 could be his year.

“It’s nothing to do if you win a race or not,” the Dutchman added. “I just hope we are very competitive as the last two races.

“Every single weekend you just have to make sure you’re top of the car to try to try and get the best out of it, because it’s so close between us and Mercedes you really need to go the best out of it to make a difference. And that is what we will try to do again this weekend.”

But why is Verstappen adopting an almost Nico Rosberg-esque ‘one race at a time’ approach?

“Well dreaming doesn’t bring you anywhere and I am pretty realistic all of the time,” he explained. “I just want to focus on the race ahead.

“I am not stupid. I know that you can’t make mistakes in a championship that so far is so close.

“I don’t want to put any unnecessary pressure on anyone within the team as also from our side we know what we have to do. No point to keep saying it.

“I just want to focus on this weekend and I prefer to remain quite silent - don’t need to hype anything up.”

2021-spec Verstappen is level-headed and exudes a new relaxed swagger that is a far cry from the cocky teenager that sensationally broke into F1 as the sport’s youngest ever driver at 17. 

The Verstappen of old had an all-or-nothing approach in his quest to win. While that determined outlook will undoubtedly bring success with the level of talent Verstappen boasts, it is not sustainable for a season-long title race.

In the past, it worked well for Verstappen given that Red Bull was only in the hunt for occasional victories rather than the title, but he has adapted to reflect a change in circumstances.

And this maturer Verstappen version is far more calculated. He is now focused on the long game.

“You have to understand that if it’s not your day, it’s not your day, you have to settle for a certain result,” he said.

“Whereas in the past, we had sometimes a car where we could win races but we knew we weren’t in a championship fight so you might risk it a bit more.

“Of course, when you’re in a championship fight or at least you know that you can be competitive more often your approach does change a little bit because you cannot afford to lose too many points in a weekend where you’re not at your top level.

“I think that’s what we always have to make sure even if we don’t have a perfect weekend, we still score a lot of points.”

While Red Bull has finally been able to hit the ground running, Verstappen stressed that the only conclusion he can draw so far is that this year’s eventual champion will need to execute “a perfect job” with the margins balanced on a knife-edge.

“It’s difficult to see a pattern at the moment,” he said. “It’s still so early in the season that I think there’s still quite a few things you want to get on top of the car, that you want to do better. We just have to wait and see.

“It really is going to depend on the track layout, whatever happens in qualifying or the race.

“The only thing I can see is that we are very close. Both of us, we need to try and do a perfect job to be able to beat each other.”