Max Verstappen sent ominous warning with Mercedes ‘bullish’ over Lewis Hamilton problem

Max Verstappen prevails in world title shoot-out

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Max Verstappen could be up against it when he tries to defend his F1 title in 2022 following a ‘bullish’ claim from Mercedes. In an already infamous finale in Abu Dhabi, Verstappen won his maiden F1 title in sensational style, overtaking Sir Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the Grand Prix following the controversial safety car procedure that remains the subject of an ongoing FIA investigation.

What transpired at the Yas Marina incensed team members at the Silver Arrows and Hamilton himself, with the British driver yet to speak publicly since missing out on what would have been an unprecedented eighth world championship.

The 37-year-old had overturned a 19-point deficit by winning the three races that preceded Abu Dhabi in Brazil, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, but only after engine reliability had seemingly plagued his title chances throughout the season.

F1 regulations limited teams to a total of three major power unit components for the 2021 season, but both Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas frequently had to take replacement parts.

Hamilton got through five internal combustion engines during the season, leading to a 10-place grid penalty in Turkey and having to drop five places in Brazil – although he did then defy the odds at Interlagos to record one of his greatest wins.

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Bottas was forced into six changes, while McLaren, Aston Martin and Williams, the customer teams of Mercedes, all had to run a fourth power unit in the latter stages of the campaign.

This year will see a huge overhaul of rules in the sport, with teams set to have an ‘engine freeze’ imposed on them before the season starts, putting extra pressure on the reigning Constructors’ champions to imminently rectify any issues.

But whilst Team Principal Toto Wolff has remained tight-lipped on progress, McLaren CEO Zak Brown has sounded an ominous warning to Verstappen, and Red Bull, that the Brackley based team were in confident mood over their predicament.

“I spoke with Toto last week about it. And he was pretty bullish,” Brown told Motorsport.com.

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“I think the power unit race is as close as ever, but I’m not worried about it.”

Brown also said that whilst Mercedes were being positive, he felt his own team also has reason for optimism following the way they handled engine issues in 2021.

“They’re feeling good about their development,” explained Brown. “We fortunately had good reliability last year. As you know, there’s more than just the power unit that goes into the reliability.

“I think our guys did a good job of working with the power unit in year one, so reliability hasn’t been maybe the same level of concern with us that it has with others.”

Whether the apparent boost to Hamilton’s title chances affects his future remains to be seen, with the seven-time champion waiting on the outcome of the FIA enquiry into Abu Dhabi before committing to the next campaign.

Mercedes have reportedly demanded the removal of FIA race director Michael Masi, who oversaw the dubious events that led to Verstappen becoming champion, as part of the investigation.

The 2022 season begins in Bahrain on March 20. 

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