Vettel and Alonso say Hamilton can expect boosted Verstappen

Speaking ahead of the 2022 Formula 1 season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso expect a bullish Max Verstappen to flourish as he sets out to defend his crown.

Mercedes superstar Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull ace Verstappen are set to renew their intense rivalry when the season fires up on Sunday in Bahrain.

Verstappen will be seeking his second title in a row after edging Hamilton to it last year, denying the Briton an eighth title and setting the stage for payback.

At 24, the Dutchman is at the opposite spectrum of 37-year-old Hamilton, the pressure and angst of needing to win the first F1 title over is likely to be a positive factor in his campaign the season

Vettel, an F1 veteran in his second season as an Aston Martin driver, explained the feeling of defending a title that few have the honour of experiencing and those who have are legends of the sport

The German told reporters in Bahrain: “It takes a lot of weight off your shoulders and it is a great feeling to start the season as a world champion.”

SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing drives on his way to winning the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix at the Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 25, 2011 in Singapore. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Sebastian Vettel

Vettel: You have the Number One on your car, which is a privilege

“We would all like to be in that position. I didn’t see it as an extra burden, but a boost and Max will probably feel the same,” predicted Vettel.

Verstappen joins Hamilton, Vettel and Fernando Alonso as the fourth F1 world champion on this season’s 20-man grid. Alonso successfully defended the maiden title he won with Renault in 2005. And the Spaniard was in agreement with Vettel.

“You start the season with less pressure because you have already accomplished one of your dreams,” said 40-year-old Alonso. “From now on, it is more fun and you go into the races knowing that you have already won the world championship once.

“Of course, you always try to fight for the second title, but if anything there will be less pressure on Max,” explained Alonso.

Mercedes have won an unprecedented eight F1 constructors’ championships but the Silver Arrow’s suggestions are the new rules and their two solutions – the Barcelona conventional Mercedes W13 and a much more radical Bahrain version

Speaking after last week’s final test in Bahrain, Hamilton does not believe Mercedes have a winning package as yet.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 12: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 makes a pitstop during Day Three of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on March 12, 2022 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Verstappen: The car looks good and as a team we are in a good place

In contrast to his rival, Verstappen’s Red Bull team are itching to go, and the body language is positive: “We learnt a lot at testing in Barcelona and Bahrain and I’m very excited to turn our attention to racing now.

“Everything is so new so there are a lot of unknowns heading into the first race of the season and I’m looking forward to seeing where we are compared to the rest of the grid come qualifying on Saturday.

“The car looks good and as a team, we are in a good place,” added Verstappen who will start his 142 Grand Prix when he lines up on the grid at Sakhir on Sunday to hunt his 21st victory in the top flight.

Meanwhile, McLaren have confirmed that Daniel Ricciardo will be fit to take part in Sunday’s race following his positive Covid-19 test.

Ricciardo was sidelined for the duration of the Bahrain rest, but McLaren say the Australian “has been feeling better each day” and has “returned a number of negative tests.”