Austin: Red Bull chief Christian Horner could hardly disguise his glee on Friday after the team confirmed they had re-signed Max Verstappen on a new three-year contract.
The 20-year-old Dutchman will stay with the team until 2020 after agreeing a deal that delighted Red Bull and ended widespread speculation about his future.
“He’s in the best place in the sport to build a team around him,” said Horner, who said he hoped also to retain Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
Both drivers have been linked with moves to Ferrari and Mercedes.
But Horner was happy to sweep that speculation aside by re-signing the sport’s hottest young driver.
“What Max has seen this year is the strength in depth in the team, its ability to develop and ability to dig itself out of an issue where we started the year.
“It’s been a character-building year for him, but he feels very comfortable in the environment and he’s enjoying racing within the team. He sees the commitment that is there for the future.”
Many paddock observers believe the retention of Verstappen made clear that Red Bull intend to make him the focal point for their future plans just as rivals Mercedes and Ferrari have done with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
Ricciardo’s current contract ends in 2018. “We’ve spoken with Daniel,” said Horner.
“It’s very clear we want to do exactly the same with him. There was a window of discussion that took place with Max and obviously, our objective is to retain the two drivers and hopefully we will be able to achieve that until 2020.”
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, continued his record-breaking form when he reeled off a ‘double top’ in practice for the United States Grand Prix.
As his title rival Sebastian Vettel struggled through a difficult second session in which he spun off in his Ferrari, Hamilton smashed the lap record at the Circuit of the Americas.
His best lap in one minute and 34.668 seconds saw him outpace nearest rival Max Verstappen, who earlier signed a new deal to stay at Red Bull until 2020, by nearly four-tenths of a second and four-time champion Vettel by half a second.
“It’s been an interesting day with lots of ups and downs in terms of how the track has moved around and how the car feels,” said Hamilton.
“But overall the car was feeling good. There are lots of areas we can improve on, but generally it feels like a solid platform and a solid start to the weekend.
“It was amazing to have so much support — which I am super grateful for. I’m excited to see everyone tomorrow.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was fourth ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull and 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari.