While Formula 1 fans the world over may have delighted in Max Verstappen ‘s title showdown against Lewis Hamilton, the experience was anything but dream-like for the Dutchman. Despite pipping Hamilton in a controversial crescendo at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Verstappen had his fill of drama by the time the 2021 F1 campaign concluded. At least that’s the suggestion made by Red Bull advisor and driver development chief Helmut Marko,
Who hinted Verstappen could even be forced into an earlier retirement should those tensions be revived. The 24-year-old was the superior driver for much of last year and led F1’s driver rankings until a late surge from Hamilton saw the pair enter the final race of the season level on points. The combative nature of the title race combined with the difficulties caused by the pandemic made for a crushing concoction of pressure, one that Verstappen would seemingly prefer not to repeat.
“We were all at the limit,” Marko told Autorevue. “And you are also much more susceptible to the [ Covid-19 ] flu. “Thank God some people only got the coronavirus after Abu Dhabi [team principal Christian Horner among them]. That was good timing. “And Max also said that he couldn’t stand such an intensity anymore. “He still wants to drive for a while, but if that’s the case every year, then it [his career] is limited.”
Such a reaction is understandable given the vitriol that’s emerged in the weeks since the contentious result in Abu Dhabi, one which has left Hamilton’s future in the sport in major doubt. The 2022 F1 season is due to kick off in Bahrain on March 20, but it’s understood Mercedes are still sweating on whether their star driver and seven-time champion will be lining up on the grid.
Both driver and manufacturer are anxiously awaiting the results of an inquest into the result at Yas Marina, the findings from which aren’t expected to be released until the week of the new campaign. FIA-appointed race director Michael Masi could still be sacked as a result of his actions in the lead-up to Verstappen’s title triumph, with Mercedes said to have dropped their appeal under the impression he would be fired.
George Russell has replaced Valtteri Bottas as the No. 2 driver for the Brackley-based team, while Verstappen has been touted as a potential recruit for F1’s most dominant outfit one day. But Marko insisted this past season’s drama between the top two outfits in the sport has only widened the gap further and convinced Verstappen against jumping ship. “I do not think that Max will leave us then,” the Australia said earlier in the week. “The events at Silverstone have left too big a crack, especially with [Verstappen’s father] Jos.