Can Max Verstappen and Red Bull become Formula One’s new dynasty?




CNN

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

Verstappen ended his title defense with a messy win at a rain-soaked Japanese Grand Prix earlier in October and didn’t realize he had done enough to retain his crown until after the race.

Mercedes, seemingly invincible for seven years with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg chasing the title, never got out of first gear, and Ferrari, after an impressive start to the season, then dropped away.

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

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

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

“Our 2021 shipment was below the cost cap, so we need to carefully review the FIA’s findings as we believe the relevant costs are below the 2021 cost cap amount,” the statement added.

The FIA ​​has yet to announce how it will punish Red Bull for breaching the cost limit.

With the ease with which Verstappen took the title and the widening gap between Red Bull and their rivals, perhaps the most important question going forward is not whether Christian Horner’s team can win the drivers’ championship again in 2023, but how. Can many win in a row?

“I think if I had asked you after that close battle with Mercedes last year, I would have said that it would have been a little bit more difficult to go to the race that Mercedes did.” Lawrence Barretto, F1 correspondent and presenter, told CNN Sport.

“But not only have Red Bull benefited from 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’s probably not only dominated this era of Formula One – until 2026 when the regulations change again – but maybe just beyond that. He’s 25 and if he wants to be 15, 16 it can go on for 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 that I think we could see a period of dominance, if not more. more dominant than Mercedes.”

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

After winning the drivers’ and constructors’ championships four years in a row between 2010 and 2013, Red Bull did not succeed again in either until Verstappen won the drivers’ championship in dramatic and controversial circumstances at the final round of the 2021 season.

Despite losing out on the drivers’ championship, Mercedes still clinched a record eighth consecutive constructors’ championship last season, but the team faces a worrying drop 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 Verstappen’s.

“I think the positive thing for Mercedes is that if you look at where they started at the beginning of the season and where they are now, they have made big gains in terms of their final performance,” explained Barretto.

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

Verstappen’s emergence as Hamilton’s crown challenger – and then successor – has undoubtedly been one of the biggest factors in the power shift at the top of the sport.

Backed by two brave and relentless drivers and teams with little love for each other, last season Rosberg gave fans the title race they’ve been craving since Mercedes team-mate Hamilton took the crown in 2016.

Having just turned 25, Verstappen’s peak is probably still ahead of him, but at 37, it’s reasonable to question whether – as has been the case this season – Hamilton’s best years as a driver are behind him.

“I don’t think Lewis Hamilton is worse off, I think he’s been in front of a car that’s so difficult to drive that he’s not used to it,” says Barretto. “2013 was probably the last year he had a car that couldn’t compete at the front.

“He was also the driver who had the most dramatic and dangerous setups at the beginning of the year because they were trying to understand what was wrong with the car.

“I don’t think Lewis is slower than him. If he had the winning car, I think he would be fighting for the world title this year.

“There have been enough races this year where we’ve seen qualifying laps or race performance to suggest he’s still got it; the car is the one that has had the biggest problem.

“I think he’s made mistakes this year, but mistakes happen when you have to run a car or you’re trying to drive or you get more lap time than you’re capable of.”

Hamilton was also confident after the Japanese Grand Prix that Mercedes would be competitive next season.

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

“Whether we solve this year’s problems or not, we’ll know when we get there.”

Given the complications for teams to make improvements since the cost cap came into effect in 2021, that could be easier with the various issues plaguing the Mercedes car this season.

“I think their problem is that budget constraints will limit the way they can accelerate performance from one year to the next,” says Barretto.

“We have pretty stable regulation from now until 2026 and we’ve also seen historically that when you actually try to catch up, every gain you make is great, but the payback time for each is small. By the time you do that, it would take months (if not years) to recover.

“Red Bull will continue to move forward because they have this concept that at the moment they feel they’re not close to what they can do, but they’re on the right track and so for them, it’s not about trying to cure the problems, it’s about trying to understand the package more.

“It will be very difficult for Mercedes and, to a certain extent, for Ferrari to catch Red Bull, at least in the interim, next year and the next two years, but as the regulations mature and the ceiling approaches, I think they will start to close the gap.”

Hamilton, who won his second title at the age of 29, is less than a year removed from the form that took the title race to the final day, so it looks like an improvement in the car rather than his driving ability. He will be a 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 other 18 drivers on the starting grid, few have the skill and car to challenge Verstappen and ensure he doesn’t create F1’s newest dynasty.

Given how the Red Bull car has performed this season, Sergio Pérez undoubtedly has the machinery to challenge for the title, but the Mexican has yet to show the consistency needed to win a championship, currently sitting more than 100 points behind team-mate Verstappen.

Charles Leclerc is considered F1’s best youngster alongside Verstappen, with five wins and 22 podiums at the age of 24, but his Ferrari team has not consistently matched 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 a bit of form saw his title aspirations disappear.

George Russell, Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate, will likely be another name to consider at the top of the standings in the coming years, especially if Mercedes can fix their car, but the young Brit still has a long way to go. prove he can match Verstappen and Pérez in F1’s new generation of stars.

“Mercedes, because of their form and success in recent years, I think they are still well placed, when they have a capable car, because everything else is very strong operationally, the rate of development, the quality of the driver, they have everything there,” says Barretto.

“In the next couple of years, Ferrari are probably going to have the best chance to really push Red Bull, and I say that because they have a younger, more exciting future spec line-up and they have a car that, if they can tighten things up strategically, learn how to get the best out of the pack more effectively, threaten they offer more.

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