CNN

For much of the 2022 Formula 1 season, Max Verstappen’s inevitable march to a second consecutive world championship felt more like a procession than a competition.

Verstappen wrapped up his title defense with victory in confusing circumstances at a soggy Japanese Grand Prix earlier in October, not realizing he had done enough to retain his crown long after the race was over.

Mercedes, seemingly unbeatable for seven years with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg sweeping the titles, never really got out of first gear, while Ferrari – after an impressive start to the season – then fell.

Such was Verstappen’s absolute dominance, the Dutchman became only the fourth driver in F1 history to win the world championship with four or more races to go.

One caveat yet to be fully heeded regarding Red Bull’s success is that the team breached F1’s 2021 cost cap rules, according to the sport’s governing body the FIA. .

“We note with surprise and disappointment the FIA’s findings on ‘minor breaches of financial regulations’,” Red Bull said in a statement earlier this month.

“Our bid for 2021 was below the cost cap limit, so we must carefully consider the FIA’s findings as we still believe the relevant costs are below the cost cap amount for 2021,” the statement added.

The FIA ​​has yet to announce how Red Bull will be penalized for breaching the cost cap.

Given the ease with which Verstappen won the title and the ever-widening gap between Red Bull and its rivals, the more relevant question going forward may not be whether the team led by Christian Horner can win the Drivers’ Championship again in 2023, but how many can win in a row?

“I think if you had asked me last year after that very close battle with Mercedes, I would have said it was going to be a bit more difficult to do the kind of racing that Mercedes did,” Lawrence Barretto, F1 correspondent and presenter, told CNN Sport.

“But Red Bull have not only made the most of the new regulations, they seem to have a driver in Max who drives at a level I haven’t seen since Lewis Hamilton.

“I think Max is driving at such a high level now that, yes, I think he could probably continue to not only dominate this era of Formula 1 – until 2026, when the regulations change again – but maybe- be beyond because he’s only 25 and he could go on if he wants for 15, 16 years.

“As long as he’s winning I don’t think he’s going anywhere, and Red Bull and Max are making such good decisions at the moment and everything is working so well operationally that I think we could see a period as well. dominant, if not more dominant than Mercedes.

However, Red Bull and Mercedes know how quickly things can change in F1.

After winning the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships for four consecutive years between 2010 and 2013, Red Bull did not enjoy further success in either until Verstappen won the Drivers’ Championship in dramatic and controversial circumstances during of the last round of the 2021 season.

Despite losing the Drivers’ Championship, Mercedes still won a record eighth consecutive Constructors’ Championship last season, but the team has seen an alarming fall from rivals in both championships in 2022.

Mercedes have failed to win a race all season and Hamilton’s current tally of 180 points is less than half that of Verstappen.

“I think the positive thing for Mercedes is if you look at where they started at the start of the season and where they are now, they’ve made huge gains in terms of ultimate performance,” Barretto says.

“So obviously they’re still not on par with Red Bull and Ferrari, but they’ve shown that once they have a problem and they understand it, then they can solve it and make gains and get lap time.”

Verstappen’s emergence as a challenger – and then successor – to Hamilton’s crown was undoubtedly one of the main contributing factors to the shift in power at the top of the sport.

With both drivers bold and ruthless and backed by teams that don’t like each other, last season gave fans the kind of title chase they’ve been craving since Rosberg edged Mercedes team-mate Hamilton to the title in 2016.

Having just turned 25, Verstappen’s pinnacle is still likely ahead of him, while at 37 it’s reasonable to wonder – as has sometimes happened this season – if Hamilton’s best years in as pilot are behind him.

“I don’t think Lewis Hamilton got any worse, I think he was faced with a car that was so hard to drive he’s not used to it,” Barretto said. “2013 was probably the last year he had a car he couldn’t really compete with in his head.

“He was also the driver who had the most dramatic and risky set-ups at the start of the year as they tried to figure out what was wrong with the car.

“I don’t think Lewis is any slower than he has been. If he had the car to win, I think he would have fought for the world title this year.

“There have been enough races this year where we have seen him deliver the kind of qualifying laps or race performance to suggest he still has it – it was the car that was the biggest problem. .

“I think he’s made mistakes this year, but mistakes happen when you have a car that you have to jostle or you’re trying to overtake or get more lap times than it’s capable of. TO DO.”

Hamilton also seemed confident in the aftermath of the Japanese GP that Mercedes would be competitive again next season.

“I think for us we know what the issues are with this car,” Hamilton told Sky Sports. “I believe that as a team we haven’t gone from world champions to not being able to build a good car. I have no doubt that we will build a better car next year.

“Whether or not we fix the problems this year, we’ll find out when we get there.”

Given the complications teams have faced in making improvements since the cost cap came into effect in 2021, this may be easier said than done with a number of issues hampering the Mercedes car this season. .

“I think the issue for them is that the budget cap is going to limit how you accelerate performance year over year,” Barretto says.

“We have relatively stable regulations by 2026 and we’ve also seen in history that actually when you’re trying to catch up, every gain you make is great, but it’s such a short time in the each time you do this, it could take months or even years to catch up.

“Red Bull are going to keep pushing forward because they have this concept at the moment where they feel like they haven’t achieved the best they can do, but they’re on the right path and so for them it’s not about trying to fix the problems, it’s just about trying to understand the package better.

“It’s going to be very difficult for Mercedes and to some extent Ferrari to catch up with Red Bull, at least in the interim, next year and the next two years, but as the regulations mature and the ceiling is getting closer, I think they will start closing the gap.

Hamilton, who won his second title at the age of 29, is less than a year away from the kind of form that saw him lead the title race until the last day, so it seems an improvement on the car rather than its ability to drive. will be the key factor in Mercedes’ return to the top of F1 next season.

Hamilton says he is confident Mercedes will bounce back next season.

Of the 18 other drivers on the starting grid, less than a handful have the skills and the car to challenge Verstappen and ensure he doesn’t create F1’s new dynasty.

Given the performance of the Red Bull car this season, Sergio Pérez undoubtedly has the machines to fight for the title, but the Mexican has yet to show the consistency needed to win a championship, currently counting more than 100 points behind his teammate Verstappen.

Charles Leclerc is widely regarded as F1’s best young prospect besides Verstappen, racking up five wins and 22 podiums by the age of 24, but his Ferrari team failed to match Red Bull or Mercedes for pace and reliability.

The Monegasque driver had a 34-point lead after the first three races of the season, but three DNFs and uneven form saw his title aspirations gradually fade away.

George Russell, Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes, will likely be another name to watch at the top of the leaderboard in years to come, particularly if Mercedes can fix their struggling car, but the young Brit still has a long way to go to prove he can match Verstappen and Pérez in the new generation of F1 stars.

“Mercedes, because of their form over the last few years and their run of success, I think they’re still in a good position because when they have a car that’s capable, everything else is so operationally strong, the development rate, quality of pilots, they have everything there,” says Barretto.

“Over the next couple of years it’s probably Ferrari who have the best chance of really pushing Red Bull and I’m saying that because they have a younger, more exciting range of future specs and they have a car that, they can tighten things up strategically, learn to get the most out of the package more effectively, they offer a bigger threat.

“But they’re so unpredictable as a team, it’s so hard to put all your eggs in your basket from one year to the next because you don’t really know what version of Ferrari you’re going to have that year. , so I think it will be interesting.”



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