Max: Hamilton not the one to beat this year

Jon Wilde

Max Verstappen is not convinced 2022 will be a repeat of 2021 and a straight fight between himself and Lewis Hamilton for glory.

Instead, the World Champion can see Ferrari building on their promising pre-season and getting into the mix for race wins and potentially even titles.

Verstappen and Hamilton were in a class of their own last year with 19 of the 22 grand prix victories between them. Valtteri Bottas, who finished third in the Drivers’ standings, ended up a massive 161.5 points behind his then Mercedes team-mate, Hamilton.

But with the new season has come heavily revised regulations, designed to tighten up the field. As all of the cars are brand new, there have been suggestions other teams could catch up on Mercedes and Red Bull, who had to retain some focus on their 2021 battle rather than pitching all their development focus forwards.

Ferrari look the constructor most likely to have made a significant leap, based on their consistency near the top of the leaderboard during pre-season testing so far.

That has not gone unnoticed by Verstappen.

Lewis Hamilton congratulates Max Verstappen. Abu Dhabi December 2021.
Lewis Hamilton congratulates Max Verstappen on winning the 2021 World Championship. Abu Dhabi December 2021.

Asked if Hamilton will be the one to beat again this year, the Dutchman told Sky Germany: “I don’t think so. Ferrari also look strong this year, at least now in the tests.

“It’s difficult to judge the others. Some teams still get some upgrades before the first race.”

On whether it will be a three-way fight, Mercedes vs Ferrari vs Red Bull, the 24-year-old added: “It‘s difficult to say. So far, Ferrari look strong. Mercedes will always be there. For us, it looks positive.”

Verstappen was also quizzed about the recent contract extension he signed, which ties him to Red Bull until 2028 and is reported to have pushed his salary up towards that of Hamilton at Mercedes.

“At the end, it was an easy decision,” said Verstappen, who is about to begin his eighth season in Formula 1.

“For a long time, I feel good in the team. That‘s important for delivering good results. And it‘s also important to have fun, which I have here. It fits since a long time. Red Bull is like a second family.”

 

Verstappen replied “maybe” when asked if he can imagine ending his career at Red Bull.

Or could he envisage competing for another team?

He replied: “At the end of my contract, I am 31. Then I did many years in F1. Let‘s see if I will continue or not after that.”

 

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