ONLY one driver secured a podium finish in each of the last five Formula 1 Grands Prix – and he wasn’t in a Mercedes or a Ferrari.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had a stunning end of the year, and with Honda coming onboard next season, he’s feeling pretty good about his prospects in 2019.

Third place in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was enough to haul Verstappen above Valtteri Bottas – in the championship-winning Mercedes – into a career-best fourth in the drivers’ standings.

In the final six races of the season, only Verstappen and Hamilton scored more than 100 points.

Verstappen’s achievement is particularly impressive, given the power deficit from Red Bull’s Renault engine, and sets things up nicely for the next campaign.

“It looks all very promising but I always try to be realistic and just wait and see,” the young Dutchman said.

“First we still need to build a great car, and then the engine should be reliable as well, and be powerful, which I think it will be there but first we do winter testing and then we’ll see.”

Red Bull brought forward the release date of their 2018 car by a week this year in a bid to avoid the team discovering problems too late and hampering their pre-season testing program.

They then developed the RB14 aggressively throughout the year, giving Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo a car  that was capable of fighting at the front.

Verstappen is encouraged by what he has seen of next year’s Red Bull machine.

“We want to push our development, but we have a good car back in the factory and they’ve been working already very hard on it,” he said.

“But I’m pretty sure that Mercedes and Ferrari have been doing the same.”

So if the Honda-powered Red Bulls deliver a potentially championship-winning package next year, does Verstappen feel ready for a shot at the title?

“Of course, I think in a year you can always do things better, but I think that’s the same every year.

“So, yeah, even if we have a winning package, for sure there will be weekends where maybe you make a mistake, or it can be a better weekend overall.

“Hopefully first we’ll have that package.”

Verstappen will race alongside new teammate Pierre Gasly next season, with Ricciardo leaving to join Nico Hulkenberg at Renault.

And Force India has at last announced Lance Stroll as the one to drive alongside long-serving Sergio Perez, thus completing the grid for 2019 and confirming what everyone knew was going to happen.  

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Bill Buys, probably Australia’s longest-serving motoring writer, has been at his craft for more than five decades. Athough motoring has always been in his DNA, he was also night crime reporter, foreign page editor and later chief reporter of the famed Rand Daily Mail. He’s twice been shot at, attacked by a rhinoceros and had several chilling experiences in aircraft. His experience includes stints in traffic law enforcement, motor racing and rallying and writing for a variety of local and international publications. He has covered countless events, ranging from world motor shows and Formula 1 Grands Prix to Targa tarmac and round-the-houses meetings. A motoring tragic, he has owned more than 90 cars. Somewhat of a nostalgic, he has a special interest in classic cars. He is the father of Targa star Robert Buys, who often adds his expertise to Bill’s reviews.