Max Verstappen prevails in world title shoot-out
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In the end, the 2021 F1 season belonged to Max Verstappen. The Red Bull driver beating Lewis Hamilton to the drivers’ title was perhaps more dramatic than emphatic, more controversial than clinical, but nevertheless it was the Dutch protege who triumphed after a season finale wilder than any driver, pundit, or fan could have ever envisaged.
But while the events at the Yas Marina will provoke debate for years to come, there is another notion from the campaign which not even the most extreme contrarian would dare dispute.
Title rivals Verstappen and Hamilton were a cut above the rest. And while stats aren’t always conducive to accurate reflections, the ones attributed to 2021 leave little to the imagination.
Verstappen’s winning total of 395.5 points, seven more than Hamilton and 169.5 clear of third placed Valtteri Bottas, tells much of the story. Throw in the fact the pair shared 18 race wins from the 22 Grands Prix, 15 pole positions, and finished the campaign with six straight ‘one-two’ finishes and you’d be forgiven for already writing off the chances of the rest in 2022.
However, this is where an intriguing twist arises. Verstappen and Hamilton won’t just be competing with themselves this year, but new technical regulations in an overhaul designed to make the sport more competitive.
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Adaptations will come in on notions like aerodynamic testing, tyres, parts classifications, and engines. The objectives are simple – to create cars that are more raceable and less prone to turbulence, creating more overtaking and for fans, excitement.
Admittedly, trying to build more frenzy into a sport that has just come off the back of its most enthralling campaign in history may seem like peculiar timing, although it should be noted these alterations were originally scheduled for 2021 before the pandemic delayed matters.
But in a nutshell, the changes threaten to bring Red Bull and Mercedes, or more specifically Verstappen and Hamilton, back towards the rest of the pack.
Mercedes are reportedly out in front with their new car design, having pedalled the theory they sacrificed serious development in 2021 in order to be ready for the new era.
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However Verstappen, a self-confessed obsessor of the Red Bull simulator, is said to be putting endless hours into the concept ahead of the season opener in Bahrain on March 20.
Potential fascination now surrounds which, if any, of the numerous drivers touted for big things in F1 can be a front-runner for the title between that Grand Prix and the 23rd event of the year in Abu Dhabi on November 20.
George Russell’s potential was underlined in qualifying, if not necessarily in races, at Williams in 2021 and his new position with the Silver Arrows provides him with an opportunity to turn promise into potent performances.
With the likes of McLaren and Ferrari also vowing to be stronger, Carlos Sainz hasn’t been shy in talking up his chances, while Lando Norris is another tipped to threaten the established order.
Even Fernando Alonso, now aged 40, has hinted at a potential challenge after showing glimpses of his old self with Alpine at the tail end of last year.
Naivety shouldn’t reign though. The driving skills of Verstappen and Hamilton, underlined by the distance between them and respective teammates Bottas and Sergio Perez, won’t dissapear overnight.
New regulations may restrict their dominance, but won’t negate their quality. And despite the hype, you suspect that any driver who can finish in front – or even between – the pair at the end of 2022 would have achieved something remarkable.
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