Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says no one will catch Verstappen this year

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes no team will catch Red Bull this season. Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

SUZUKA, Japan -- Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff believes Max Verstappen is already destined for a fourth world title this year, despite there being 20 races left to run.

On Sunday in Japan, Verstappen took a third dominant victory of the season ahead of Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, thereby extending his lead in the championship to 13 points after four races.

Verstappen's points total looks slightly less impressive due to his retirement from the Australian Grand Prix two weeks ago, but the manner of his victory in Japan, which saw him finish 20 seconds clear of the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz in third, led Wolff to the conclusion that no one will challenge him for the title.

"No one is going to catch Max this year," Wolff said. "His driving and the car are just spectacular. You can see the way he manages the tyres and basically this season now is best of the rest.

"That's the fact, that is all but hopefully we can catch up to the to the McLarens and to the Ferraris and fight for P2. This is what it is this year and what is was last year and we had a P2 last year."

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When Wolff's view was put to Verstappen, he laughed off the suggestion by referencing recent speculation that Mercedes is trying to tempt him away from Red Bull for either 2025 or 2026.

"Lately, Toto has been really nice, saying a lot of nice things about me!" Verstappen said. "No, I don't know. It's still a very long season.

"I don't want to think about the rest of the season too much. I really want to approach it race by race. I know there will be tracks coming up that might not be so favourable for us, but then, of course, when we do get to tracks where we know that we can be quick, we have to really take advantage of it and score the maximum amount of points as a team, and that's what we'll continue to try and do.

"And then, of course, I think we know that we get to tracks where maybe it's a bit more difficult we have to try and maximise that as well, where maybe other teams can win as well."

Mercedes finished Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix in seventh and ninth, and Wolff said the presence of the Ferraris, McLarens and Fernando Alonso's Aston Martin ahead of his drivers underlined the extent of the challenge facing his team before it can set its targets on Red Bull.

"If your expectation is to eventually race for wins and for championships you can say we are in a bit of no man's land, because Max and Red Bull are far ahead. It is not satisfying for a team fighting for P2, P3 and P4.

"If I was to look from a pure sporting point of view it is P1 what matters, not P2, P3 or P4 but this is the reality that we are facing at the moment."