Max Verstappen says McLaren’s driver pairing of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri is the best line-up of all the teams chasing Red Bull.

McLaren has scored the most points of any team over the past three races, with its return of 104 points even leading Red Bull’s next-best total of 74. Given the rate at which McLaren has been scoring, and with the team finishing second and third behind Verstappen in each of the past two races, the Dutchman says it makes Norris and Piastri his closest rivals.

“I do think that as a team they are probably the most consistent, compared to the others behind us,” Verstappen said. “And I do think they have the best driver line-up out of all of them. So yeah, they are operating really well. And, yeah, it’s going to be interesting to the end of the year, but also I think the start of next year to see where everyone is at.”

Having closed the gap to Aston Martin in the constructors’ championship to just 11 points in rapid fashion, McLaren is now being asked about the 79-point deficit to Ferrari in third place and whether that can negated over the final five rounds of the season.

“It’s doable,” Norris said. “I think so. A couple of races ago it was, 70-something to Aston. I don’t know what it is now … I mean, Fernando (Alonso) said we were overconfident as well! I think we’re just doing a good job, not just in terms of pace but we had a 1.8 second pit stop which is pretty impressive from the guys.

“They’ve been working extremely hard so to reward the whole team consistently is only more motivating and a bigger boost every weekend. They like the taste of success. It’s the first time they’re getting it consistently and I think that only makes them want it more and more and more every weekend that we’re doing so the guys are doing a great job. I think we’re both doing a decent job too, so we’ll keep it up.

“We know that Mercedes are very quick, probably as almost as quick as us (in Qatar), just they keep making mistakes. So I’m sure if they have a clean weekend they will maybe make our life a bit more tricky and therefore I’m not as confident in saying it.

“But like I was comparing to Ferrari, it was only three weekends ago that Ferrari were on pole and almost winning races and nothing has really changed, it’s just a different track. We’re looking better, they’re looking a bit worse. I think we’re definitely not overconfident. We’re confident, I think we need to be, but we know there’s still going to be some races where we’re not going to be quite as strong.”

McLaren’s recent form has seen it pick up back-to-back double-podium finishes, but Piastri warns that’s not a trend that’s likely to continue.

“I think Suzuka and (Qatar) have probably been tracks we’ve been looking at for quite a while in terms of what’s going to favor us,” Piastri said. “I think there’s going to be some races that are going to be more difficult than (Qatar) and probably will suit other teams a bit better.

“I think 79 points in what, five races and a couple of Sprints? It’s a big challenge but yeah, we’ll give it a go. I think obviously the gap to Aston now is very achievable. But yeah, hopefully we can do it.”