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Honda backs Verstappen aim to make podium at every race

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Melbourne (AFP)

Red Bull's Max Verstappen is aiming for a podium finish at every race this season and Honda's Formula One chief is backing his lofty ambition.

The young Dutchman made the podium nine times last year, winning three grands prix, to end the 2019 season behind only world champion Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

He has set his sights much higher for 2020, starting at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday in a bid to dethrone Hamilton, who is chasing a seventh world title and fourth in a row.

Red Bull engine manufacturer Honda, who also supply the AlphaTauri team, formerly known as Toro Rosso, said they had worked hard in the off season to maintain reliability and deliver more power.

"We are making every effort to be there and fight for the championship," said Honda F1 managing director Masashi Yamamoto in a statement.

"We had some unfortunate races last year, losing out in some of them, but we must avoid having those sort of races this year.

"Max says he wants to get on the podium at all the races, which is an aim we must support."

Verstappen, who finished third in Melbourne last year, said "we are pushing hard as a team".

"Everybody here knows that to be successful you need to fully understand the car, do a lot of laps and we were pleased with our testing in Barcelona," he said.

"We got good mileage, things ran pretty smoothly and that's exactly what we wanted.

"I'd like to start the season strong," added the Dutchman, whose bravado and energy have made him a blockbuster talent.

"Because then it's really on but we won't know where we stand until Q2 and Q3 on Saturday in Melbourne, that's where all the hard work over the winter really counts."

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