Did Max Verstappen’s World Championship Triumph Blow Open F1 2022?

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 12: Race winner and 2021 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium during 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) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202112120595 // Usage for editorial use only //

It’s been a long time coming, but finally, a driver not in a Mercedes seat claimed the World Drivers’ Championship, with it going to Max Verstappen in 2021. It was a heated and exciting season full of twists, turns, jabs, and a rivalry that boosted the action tremendously.

So tense was the run-up to Abu Dhabi and the events within the race that the then-incumbent champions protested the triumph, according to ESPN. Now, the 24-year-old Dutchman is the reigning champion with Red Bull Racing, and while his victory was grand and sport-shattering, the giant that is Mercedes hasn’t been toppled just yet. What’s more, there looks to be even more competition next year from his peers of next-gen racers.

Familiar Constructors Tipped to Be at the Forefront for F1 2022

Perhaps one of the most encouraging signs that Verstappen will repeat his championship is his teammate. Sergio Pérez, who’s six years the champion’s senior, was instrumental in his teammate’s last-gasp triumph. It was Pérez’s staunch defense against Hamilton for six laps that allowed Verstappen to catch up just before the halfway point, a decision that would have been received negatively according to Independent.co.uk. Pérez finished the season fourth overall, but he certainly won’t look to challenge his teammate in 2022. Over in the Mercedes camp, this might not be the case. First, what needs settling is if the legendary Lewis Hamilton will return.

As reported by The Mirror, team principal Toto Wolff is giving his star time to digest the way in which he lost his run of four consecutive World Drivers’ titles. Despite now being 37-years-old, the Englishman is expected to return and compete. As of 17 January, the online betting Betway has on offer shows the dethroned driver as the favorite at +110 to reclaim the crown, with the champion at +187. Verstappen and Hamilton are the clear favorites as they are the star drivers for the constructors that have proven to make the best cars.

Of course, this is all assuming that Hamilton returns to F1, which is dependent on the outcome of the inquiry according to Forbes. Despite Verstappen being the obvious competition, there’s a good chance that Hamilton could return to a much more hostile camp than that shared with the more subservient Valtteri Bottas as hotshot compatriot George Russell has joined the team. There’s little indication that another constructor will be able to compete next season as it stands, with Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto admitting the huge gap.

The Next-gen of Racers Ready to Make a Point

At just 24-years-old, Verstappen is certainly the headline act of this next generation of racers speeding their way around the Formula One calendar. He was also the first to be given a shot as the lead driver for a championship-ready team. Next looks to be George Russell. The 23-year-old comes over from Williams Racing and says that he’ll “put everything on the table and go for it,” per BBC. While the initial phases of press and sponsorship commitments will prove a huge challenge early on, Russell certainly won’t be looking to just drive for Hamilton’s championship next season. If anything, he’ll be out to prove that the future’s bright when Hamilton eventually retires.

Another interesting story to watch will be that of Yuki Tsunoda. The 21-year-old will be in his second season of F1 racing in 2022, bursting onto the scene last year with the second-fastest time in preseason testing – only behind Verstappen. The Japanese racer even finished the season with a high at Yas Marina, finishing a career-best fourth. The big helper will be that this season, the new AlphaTauri will be very similar to the Red Bull. The sister team didn’t make some key parts of the 2020 Red Bull build, and Tsunoda was a bit hit-and-miss, but now they’ll be leaning on the 2022 designs, likely giving Tsunoda a much better car.

Two other key figures for the future to watch for are Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris. The Monégasque driver is very much hailed as the one to, eventually, pull Scuderia Ferrari to the championships once again. As indicated by Autosport, he’s incredibly fast, and he’s got a strong teammate in Carlos Sainz, but both have to play the waiting game as the car simply isn’t championship-ready yet. Norris is in a similar, but much further-flung, situation with McLaren. The 22-year-old is undoubtedly a very talented driver, and the team managed to pull out some great results on high-speed tracks, per TheSportRush, but there’s a long way to go for the car.

The 2022 Formula One season looks to be an incredibly exciting one if Hamilton returns to give Verstappen a huge challenge to retain his title. However, if the Englishman hangs up his helmet, the next generation of drivers will have a much clearer path to stake their individual claims as new stars of the show alongside the reigning champion.

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