Mercedes is wary about the threat a “formidable” Max Verstappen will pose the team during the early rounds of the 2020 Formula 1 season, which resumes next month. 

After the opening 10 races were called off due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, F1 has confirmed the 2020 campaign will begin with the Austrian Grand Prix on July 5, kicking off a run of eight-European rounds spanning until early September.

The Red Bull Ring has not been a happy hunting ground for Mercedes in recent years with the team suffering a rare double DNF in 2018 before struggling for pace last year, while Verstappen has won the previous two events in Austria. 

Speaking on this week’s F1 Nation podcast, Mercedes technical director James Allison admitted Mercedes is bracing itself for a strong challenge early on from Red Bull and Verstappen.

“There's no doubt that Max is going to be a formidable opponent for us this year,” he said.

“Ferrari too showed glimpses of some form in pre-season testing, [but] we would imagine that Max will again be strong in Austria because Red Bull are always super-pumped up there – and they've got a bit of a track record.”

EDITOR'S PICKS: Could F1's season start hand Red Bull and Verstappen an early edge? 

Mercedes’ lack of competitiveness in Austria last year was largely down to cooling issues with its W10 package, however, Allison is confident the German manufacturer has now resolved the problem with its latest W11 challenger.

“Our campaign in Austria last year was hampered by our own mistakes on the cooling side, which meant that we were chugging around way off the actual natural pace of the car,” Allison explained.

“And the year before, [we were] hampered by some unreliability and rather clumsy moves around the Safety Car.

“So I think we're all looking forward to getting to Austria, and maybe showing a bit more of what we're capable of than the slight underperformance that we put in in the previous two seasons.”

A week after the double-header in Austria, F1 will travel to the Hungaroring, another track Verstappen excells at, having claimed his maiden F1 pole position at the Budapest venue last season. 



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