Max Verstappen prevails in world title shoot-out
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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted the distraction of competing for the world championship in 2021 with Mercedes may allow other teams to sneak in and fight for the title in 2022. Max Verstappen secured a maiden world title in dramatic and controversial circumstances over Lewis Hamilton at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale last season.
The Dutchman passed the seven-time world champion – who had dominated for much of the race – on the final lap of the season to win the world title as a late safety car and tyre change swung momentum in his favour.
FIA race director Michael Masi initially decided to not allow cars to unlap themselves, as is tradition, only to change his mind to set up the final lap showdown between Hamilton and Verstappen.
Hamilton couldn’t fend off Verstappen in the final lap shootout, and the Red Bull ace went onto win the title by eight points in what was a fascinating season – which witnessed many flashpoints between Horner’s side and Mercedes.
The Constructors’ Championship also went down to the wire, with Red Bull finishing 28 points behind Mercedes.
As a result of a rollercoaster season, with the title lead changing hands constantly, both Red Bull and Mercedes held off developing their 2022 challenger to focus on their respective title charges in 2021.
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Horner believes it was ‘inevitable’ that the championship battle provided a level of distraction – and it could affect the title race in 2022 as F1 begins a new era following immense regulation changes.
“I think there could be a shakeup in the order,” Horner told Indian broadcaster WION.
“You could see teams like Ferrari, McLaren, maybe even one or two surprises, because it’s a complete reset of the regulations and ourselves and Mercedes were very much involved in last year’s championship fight.
“So inevitably, that takes a little bit of distraction and emphasis away from the following year.
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“We expect to have some very fierce competition out there this year and I think it is going to be an exciting championship ahead.”
While Red Bull and Mercedes are still the favourites to get out ahead of the new regulations, the changes certainly could shake up the grid order and allow a contender to emerge from the shadows.
Originally intended for the 2021 season, the regulations were delayed a year due to Covid.
These regulations are aimed at reducing ‘following car distance’ by removing ‘dirty air’ that leading cars leave in their wake, making overtaking moves more difficult due to the turbulent air flow.
Cars will differ quite substantially from their predecessors despite power units essentially being unchanged, as sidepods, airboxes, brake ducts, underbodies and both front and rear wings are set to be redesigned.
The addition of 18-inch wheels will also massively affect the cars, both visually and technically.
Red Bull chief Helmut Marko, though, quashed suggestions that his side and Mercedes will be massively hindered by the changes, and believes the usual suspects will likely lead the way still.
Marko told AutoRevue: “With the standard that teams like Mercedes and Red Bull have today – with simulation, computers and all the resources – I don’t think so.”
The 23-race 2022 campaign begins on 18-20 March, with winter testing for the all-new generation of cars getting underway from 23 February in Barcelona.
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