Max Versta: talks about F1 amid Mercedes's speculation of movement

BUDAPEST: Since the engine failure forced an exasperation Max Verstappen out of last year Hungarian Grand Prix , has 11 podiums among 20 consecutive Formula One races in the top five.

After spectacular recent victories in Austria and Germany, the 21-year-old Dutchman is in the form of his career back to Hungaroring for Sunday's race.

Verstappen's remarkable consistency comes along with greater maturity. He has focused his mind better, while maintaining the panache and impressive speed that made him a future star when he broke into the scene by winning the Spanish GP in May 2016.

At age 18, and in his Red Bull debut, he became the youngest winner of a F1 race. Only an unreliable engine, along with some reckless overtaking and the occasional clash with then teammate Daniel Ricciardo, stopped Verstappen.

The ruthless decision of Red Bull, dropping Renault engines and switching to Honda this year, has solved irritating reliability problems that were a great source of frustration and a constant distraction within the team, especially for drivers.

Now Verstappen can focus on driving the best he can without a doubt, instead of worrying if he will finish a race due to a fragile engine. Ricciardo's move to Renault has also reinforced Verstappen's status as No. 1 in Red Bull. Verstappen is 107 points from his new teammate Pierre Gasly. After 11 races, Gasly has not yet taken the podium.

`` It's very difficult if you face Verstappen right now, for me it could be said that he is the most fit driver on the grid. It's a huge barometer for any pilot with whom it can be measured, '' said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. `` As a competitor, you always want to measure yourself against the best you can. So, he is a point of reference with which Pierre measures himself. ''

Verstappen's two victories in the last three races attracted attention - even by Verstappen's extravagant standards - and sent legions of orange-clad fans who followed him everywhere in the 21 races of the world to delirium.

First, Verstappen made a brilliant wave from the bottom of the field in Spielberg on June 30, overtaking the runaway race leader _ and former junior karting rival _ Ferrari of Charles Leclerc near the end with a movement of audacity and technical astonishment dazzling.

Last weekend, Verstappen's victory in the chaotic and rain-soaked German GP was possibly better. He kept the nerve in a race full of accidents to achieve a seventh victory in the GP, despite turning his car 360 degrees full after one of several tire changes proved problematic.

`` (It was) a phenomenal performance of him, keeping his head, having the pace in all the variable conditions and going to the top and winning, '' said Horner. `` It's in great shape and we hope we can continue that way on summer vacations and also on the other side. It is certainly delivering at an extremely high level. ''

Verstappen is the talk of F1 amid increasing speculation he could drive at Mercedes, alongside five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton next season in what would be a mouthwatering inter-team rivalry.

Although Horner acknowledges that `` there are always trigger points' 'in a driver's contract, he says that Mercedes' head of motoring, Toto Wolff, has not approached him to sign Verstappen.

`` Toto certainly hasn't told me about that. Talk to almost all the drivers on the grid, so I think if he has had a conversation, it has been direct, not through the team, '' Horner said. `` The situation with Max is clear and, as with other drivers, there are always activation points. But in terms of having those two in a team, I haven't heard from Lewis that he wants (Verstappen) to join next year. ``

However, speculation has increased, since Mercedes has not yet offered Valtteri Bottas a contract for next year.

After Verstappen, the son of ex- F1 driver Jos Verstappen, won 68 of his first 70 karting races, his talent was obvious.

His path to the top of F1 seems inevitable, too, although he might be too far back to challenge for this year's title since he sits 63 points behind Hamilton.

`` Since Mercedes had such a dominant start to the season, it's really hard to catch them, '' Verstappen said. `` We're going to try but I'm not thinking about the title. ''

But Bottas, who is only 22 points ahead of him and under pressure to keep his Mercedes seat, is very close to his sight.