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Verstappen: It’s all good with Lewis

hamilton verstappen bahrain

Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen says it’s “all good” with him and Lewis Hamilton as the Red Bull driver begins his title defence at this weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix but does not believe Mercedes are in trouble as they claim.

Verstappen will carry the Number One plate this season, ditching his traditional Number 33, as he tries to again deny Hamilton’s quest for an unprecedented F1 crown. Their battle will resume in earnest at Sakhir, where the pair met today and had a chat.

When asked about the status of his relationship with archrival Hamilton, Verstappen told reporters: “It’s all good. We just saw each other on the grid and you know, you ask how is everything going. It’s all quite hectic and we don’t have a lot of time to meet up but we are racers and we go at it again.

“There are a lot of good drivers out there so I never really push it like I’m fighting Lewis and this is amazing. I’m just happy I’m in a championship fight and, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who it is against and who people call the best driver in the world or ever.

“There have been so many good drivers in F1 in the past so I find it quite hard to judge,” added Verstappen before dismissing Hamilton’s claims that Mercedes “would not competing for wins just yet” as the same old story with the seven-time F1 World Champion and his team.

Lewis hamilton Mercedes W13 bahrain gp

Verstappen: They don’t want to show anything, they don’t want to make it look bad

He said: “Somebody sent me the articles from 2017 onwards and it’s been the same story in pre-season, and then they’ve been first at the opening race.

“You know how dominant they have been in those previous years. Of course, they have little issues but everyone has little issues. And for sure from their side it looks a bit bad because they’re bouncing a lot. But it’s not really limiting them in performance, it’s just really uncomfortable to drive.

“You could see in the laps they were doing they were not completing the lap with full power but they’re hiding so it’s just how they are. They don’t want to show anything, they don’t want to make it look bad, and then they look amazing suddenly by improving. They for sure will be good.”

Looking back on the infamous title-deciding night in Abu Dhabi which resulted in a axing of Race Director Michael Masi who was made a scapegoat for the fiasco by the FIA.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 12: Race winner and 2021 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing celebrates with his team after the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on December 12, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Max: Abu Dhabi was was the perfect ending to the year

Verstappen continued: “It was a bit over the top and I don’t think there needs to be a lot of changes. People overreact after a season ends like that.”

As for the manner in which it was won, Verstappen remained adamant that it was tit-for-tat: “They don’t feel sorry for us when I was in the wall [at Silverstone] and we don’t feel sorry for them with what happens in Abu Dhabi.

“It was the perfect ending to the year and if it wasn’t for the points I lost during the season the championship would have been decided three races before the end.”

The Dutchman, who clinched his first title at a controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last December, was fastest in pre-season testing last week at the same Sakhir circuit that hosts the floodlit opener.

Verstappen will want also to do better than last year in Bahrain when he started on pole position but finished second after being forced to give up the lead to Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton for going off track to overtake.

Van Amersfoort: Verstappen is just so beyond talented

Max: The most important thing for us in Bahrain is to have a stable weekend

“I’m very excited to turn our attention to racing now, it’s a whole new era for the sport and anything can happen,” said the 24-year-old. “The car looks good and as a team we are in a good place.”

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

“The most important thing for us in Bahrain is to have a stable weekend without too many issues and we hope to score a good amount of points,” added Verstappen.

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Ferrari looking good but Charles and Carlos playing down expectations ahead of Bahrain

F1 has undergone its most radical rules overhaul in decades with new-look cars designed to create better racing and several teams eyeing an opportunity to upset the established order.

Ferrari in particular seem set to end a winless streak dating back to the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix but drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz have been keen to play down their car’s potential.

“I feel we are still a bit behind Red Bull. I don’t think we are speaking about a (gap of a) second like last year or even more the year before, so I feel it is going to be closer for sure and this is already a good sign,” Leclerc explained.

max verstappen f1 world champion fia trophy awards-001

Wolff: It’s a clean slate for everyone and all to play for

Mercedes, who are tied with Ferrari as the most successful team at the Bahrain Grand Prix having won there six times, are chasing a fourth consecutive win at the venue.

However, the team, beaten in Bahrain only twice since 2014, struggled to get their car dialled into the track’s layout during testing, suffering more than others with bouncing on the straight.

Hunting for a ninth consecutive constructors’ crown, and with Lewis Hamilton now alongside youngster George Russell as the sport’s most successful driver chases the eighth title he felt robbed of last year, Mercedes cannot be written off.

“It’s a clean slate for everyone and all to play for,” said team boss Toto Wolff. “I’m excited to see what the weekend has in store.”

The season-opening weekend will also see the return of experienced Dane Kevin Magnussen at Haas as a replacement for sacked Russian Nikita Mazepin.

Nico Hulkenberg stands in for Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin after the four-time champion tested positive for COVID-19.

Rookie Guanyu Zhou, meanwhile, becomes the first Chinese driver to race in Formula One when he lines up on the grid for Alfa Romeo. (Additional reporting by Abhishek Takle & PA Media)