Verstappen and title rival Lewis Hamilton head into a ‘winner-takes-all’ championship showdown in Abu Dhabi tied level on points after 21 races, with Verstappen holding the advantage by virtue of winning one extra race. 

In total, the Red Bull driver has claimed nine victories and nine pole positions compared to Hamilton’s eight wins and five poles this year. 

And Horner has no doubt as to who would be the more deserving world champion. 

"It’s not over yet,” Horner told the F1 Nation podcast. “Max is a fighter, and if there is a driver that deserves to win this world championship it’s Max Verstappen, because Mercedes have had the better car.

“He has driven outstandingly. Look how close Valtteri has been to Lewis this year. Max has been head and shoulders for me the driver of the year.

“He would be very deserving to win this championship. The way he has driven this year, the way he has conducted himself, I think that has been outstanding."

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Verstappen was on course to take his 10th pole of the year in Saudi Arabia before crashing at the final corner on his last lap of Q3. 

Horner described Verstappen’s lap as “the best lap we’ve ever had in one of our cars, up until that corner”. 

“But it will get forgotten about because it didn’t get finished,” he added. “It was an outstanding lap.

“I don’t think people actually realise what Max is doing in that car. I don’t think that people recognise that we haven’t had the best car all year. 

“Max has lifted this and I think that he deserves all the credit.” 

But Horner is worried that revisions made to the Yas Marina Circuit will favour Mercedes, having described Hamilton’s engine speed as being “unraceable” as he beat Verstappen to a crucial win in Jeddah. 

“They changed the layout [at Abu Dhabi] and unfortunately the engine speed that Hamilton has is unraceable,” Horner explained. 

“I mean he was a second quicker in sectors two and three, Max would pull half a second by Turn 13. You can’t defend against that. It is the most frustrating thing for a driver to be sitting with that kinda deficit.

“And that’s been really frustrating in the last three races, we’ve just been watching that dominant straightline performance, which you can’t do anything about.

"We will come back. We will be fighting. We will attack this last race with everything we have. If we don’t win it, it won’t be for a lack of trying.”