Will Red Bull lose Max Verstappen too?
JENSON Button believes Formula 1 is poised for a three-team fight at the front in 2019 - and that Max Verstappen needs to be among the title challengers or else he might be tempted pursue other options.
Amid growing anticipation for the new season, with preparations ramping up when winter testing begins in mid-February, former world champion Button reckons there is "so much to be looking forward to" in the sport.
The prospect of the new Red Bull-Honda partnership joining Mercedes and Ferrari in the championship fight represents one of pre-season's most mouth-watering talking points, and Button believes it is imperative for Verstappen's career that they do.
"It's tricky with Max. He's always moving forward and he's always looking for something else. He jumps into a Red Bull and he wins his first race," Button said.
"This year is a really important year for him to keep it moving. He has to be fighting for the championship or I think he will start asking questions about where he should be in the future."
That warning for Red Bull comes after Verstappen implored his team not to start as slowly as it has done in previous seasons.
"We need to make sure that from the start we are a little bit closer so we can actually start fighting with them a bit sooner," Verstappen said.
"It seems like we keep our car progressing in a good way throughout the season, which helped us out at the end of last season and also the season before.
"We just need to be a little bit sooner than at the end of the season."
Button believes the new aerodynamic rules have come at the right time for the sport.
"There are so many changes in the sport at the moment and that's exactly what the sport needs," Button said. "I think we will have three teams battling at the front and, if we do, there will be some fantastic fights."
RICCIARDO OPTIMISTIC ABOUT RENAULT EXPERIMENT
Daniel Ricciardo likes what he's hearing about the improvement at Renault.
The Aussie star left Red Bull at the end of last season to join the French outfit on a two-year deal, and is optimistic about what lies ahead in 2019.
"It's encouraging, obviously," Ricciardo said.
"When I signed, I knew that there was work ahead but I know they're putting a lot of effort into making things better and expanding a lot of departments and trying to make 2019 and 2020 stronger.
"Obviously, all I can do is try to be fully immersed in it all, try to help as much as I can and see how things go from there."
Renault executive director Marcin Budkowski believes Ricciardo's decision to join the team reflects well on its ambitions.
"It's a great buzz to have someone like Daniel who decides to join us, which shows a trust in the project, what we're trying to achieve, and also a desire to be involved," Budkowski said.
"The day he was announced here everybody was very, very excited and coupling him with Nico (Hulkenberg), who had a very strong season last season and the last couple of years, we have one of the best line-ups on the grid."
Renault's fourth-place finish in 2018's constructors' championship was a two-place improvement on the previous year, but the gap to the established top three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull remained a large one.
Budkowski says progress up the standings has been "completely in line with our targets" so far but that "the challenge starts now in terms of closing the gap to the top three".
"When Renault decided to come back in Formula 1 and bought the team in Enstone there was a six-year plan," he said.
"The first three years were three years of reconstruction and the next three years were labelled three years of attack. By attack it means going to fight with the top guys.
"So we have done the three years of reconstruction, we are there or thereabouts in terms of rebuilding the team both in terms of an infrastructure point of view and a human point of view with a big recruitment carried out.
"Now it's three years where we are expecting to progressively catch the top three and go and challenge them for wins and, hopefully, championships."
HAMILTON STILL HUNGRY FOR SUCCESS
Despite Mercedes' prolonged success, world champion Lewis Hamilton has consistently welcomed the prospect of a wider title fight.
And Button reckons it is such evolving challenges, rather than chasing down Michael Schumacher's all-time records, which continues to motivate the 34-year-old.
"Knowing Lewis, it (his motivation) won't be about trying to better what Michael has done," said Button, who partnered Hamilton at McLaren in 2010-12.
"Things are changing in F1 and there are new challenges and that's what he loves. It's when the challenges stop that you think, 'You know what, I'm going to do something else.'
"But with the F1 is, with the regulation changes and the driver changes, he will want to keep going, which is fantastic for the sport."
With James Galloway, Sky Sports