Lewis Hamilton sent Daniel Ricciardo warning amid Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen threat

McLaren have “everything” they need to be a top contender in Formula One again reckons boss Zak Brown, with technical director James Key tipping newcomer Daniel Ricciardo to go “toe to toe” with the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen – potentially even as early as next season.

Hamilton waltzed to a fourth straight drivers’ championship in 2020 as Mercedes wrapped up their seventh straight double, having won every constructors’ and drivers’ title since 2014.

The Brit, now a seven-time world champion, finished 124 points clear of team-mate Bottas despite missing the Sakhir Grand Prix having contracted COVID-19 after winning 11 of 17 races.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen meanwhile finished just nine points behind Bottas in third with the duo both managing two race wins, the Dutchman’s team ending up 254 points behind the Silver Arrows.

McLaren, meanwhile, ended up in third, edging out Racing Point at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for their best team finish since 2012.

Looking ahead to next season, with Carlos Sainz heading to Ferrari, Woking-based outfit McLaren will welcome Daniel Ricciardo to form an exciting driver line-up alongside Lando Norris.

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The Australian finished fifth in the drivers’ standings last season after two podium finishes for Renault and the 31-year-old is a winner of seven races having previously driven alongside Verstappen for Red Bull.

And McLaren are hopeful that Ricciardo can battle the likes of Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen as early as next season, insisting he and young Brit Norris are a formidable pairing.

McLaren recently announced major new investment in the team and will also switch back to Mercedes power units for 2021 following a two-year stint with Renault engines, fuelling hope of continued progress.

The main challenge to Hamilton’s crown is once again expected to come from Bottas and Verstappen but Ricciardo and Norris may harbour hope of sneaking into the mix.

Chief executive Brown told Sky Sports News: “I think we do have everything that we need. It’ll take time.

“Andreas Seidl has done an unbelievable job leading the Formula 1 team. We’ve got two great drivers. We’ve got the Mercedes power plant.

“We’ve got fantastic men and women at the racetrack and back at the factory all building towards this race car to make it go as fast as possible.

“So, I think we need some time for it all to come together, but I don’t think there are any pieces to the puzzle missing now. We’ve just got to put the puzzle together.”

While in a review of the 2020 season for McLaren’s website, team technical director James Key said he is confident Ricciardo – who he worked with at Toro Rosso in 2012 and 2013 – can help the team to challenge Mercedes and Red Bull.

“He’s an excellent driver to work with,” Key said. “He will have accumulated plenty of experience and knowledge since I last worked with him.

“So I expect he’ll be several steps ahead of where he was back then in terms of what he’ll bring to the team.

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“He arrives as a proven race winner and is someone who can go toe to toe with the very best drivers.

“Daniel is very easy to get on with, but he’s hugely determined and that has a positive effect on any team.

“He will be a great reference point for us and, together with Lando, we will have one of the strongest driver pairings in the paddock.”

Hamilton, who will be looking to surpass 100 wins (currently 95) and pole positions (currently 98) next season, expects Red Bull in particular to pose a fierce test at the front of the grid.

Speaking after the final race of 2020, the 35-year-old said: “It’s a great result, great drive from [Max] all weekend and a great showing that Red Bull has a solid car.

“As far as I’m aware, we haven’t had any changes to our engine, so I think it’s just true pace from them rather than us taking a step back, and I think they’ve worked so hard all through the year so congrats to him and his team.

“We still scored more points than Red Bull as a team so that’s still a strong showing, and we’ve obviously got a fight on our hands next year.

“Without a doubt these guys are going to be strong as this car he’s driving now is next year’s car pretty much, and the same for us. So, I’m excited for that challenge and that battle that we hopefully will get.”

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