Formula 1: Verstappen under pressure: Ferrari and McLaren getting stronger

Formula 1: Verstappen under pressure: Ferrari and McLaren getting stronger

Is Max Verstappen’s fourth Formula 1 title in danger? After a third of the season, two teams are getting closer. And McLaren and Ferrari are growing in confidence.

Max Verstappen didn’t want to hear any worries about his title mission failing. “We’re staying very strong as a team, we’re not overreacting, we’re analysing the race and we’re just carrying on,” said the Dutch Red Bull star after finishing sixth at the Monaco Grand Prix. But after another weak performance from his troublesome car, the 26-year-old world champion has every reason to be alarmed: Ferrari and McLaren are catching up noticeably and, after more than two years of overwhelming Verstappen dominance, are creating a new three-way battle in Formula 1.

“It was a weekend to forget, but also one in which we can learn a lot,” said three-time champion Verstappen. While he was pondering, winner Charles Leclerc of Ferrari jumped into the harbor basin of his hometown for joy and spent the whole night celebrating a triumph that he had long dreamed of. But that was all.

“I’m not thinking about the World Cup, it’s far too early in the season,” said the 26-year-old after the emotional success, which moved him to tears in the cockpit. For the first time in almost two years, the Monegasque won in the principality of all places and is Verstappen’s closest rival, only 31 points behind in second place in the overall standings.

New self-confidence at McLaren

But Leclerc is not Verstappen’s only problem – and probably not the biggest one either. Above all, the young McLaren duo Oscar Piastri (23) and Lando Norris (24) are well on their way to closing the long, large gap to Red Bull, who have been so superior for more than two years. “We can be confident, no matter where we drive,” said the Australian Piastri. Victories are now possible for them on any track. Piastri already finished second in Monaco, the Briton Norris fourth, and in the World Championship they are in sixth and third place. There is much to suggest that they will also be chasing Verstappen in Canada in two weeks.

“It won’t be our best weekend either,” said Verstappen, looking ahead to the next circuit in Montreal. Curbs and bumps keep throwing his car off balance, and there are plenty of them on the track on Île Notre-Dame. “The car has to change, it has to be more drivable and flexible,” said TV expert Ralf Schumacher on Sky. Just like McLaren, who have improved their car a lot. “They still have some work to do, the fish is not cleaned yet for this year,” said Schumacher. Accordingly, Red Bull urgently needs to improve in the title fight.

Verstappen is not (yet) in a crisis

But the truth is that it is difficult to draw conclusions from races in Monaco for other circuits. The narrow street circuit is too slow, and it is more a matter of mechanics than aerodynamics. Verstappen is also not in a crisis yet; after five wins from eight races, he is still the most successful driver. He is just not as dominant as last year, when he was uncatchable six races before the end – like only Michael Schumacher before him.

“A season like last year doesn’t happen often and we are realistic,” said Verstappen. It is now a matter of understanding the reasons for the problems. “If we get this under control, we will immediately gain a lot of lap time,” said the defending champion. In the battle for the constructors’ championship, the failure of Mexican Sergio Pérez also weighed heavily in Monaco. He retired through no fault of his own after a serious accident on the first lap.

While McLaren and Ferrari have made some improvements to their cars over the course of the season, Red Bull has not yet made any decisive upgrades. If that happens, it can be assumed that the car will improve. And in Monaco, too, Verstappen was already faster than some of his opponents, but overtaking was impossible between the narrow barriers and he finished in the same position he had started from.

Vasseur: Hope for a three-way battle until the end

“It looks like we’re getting stronger and stronger every weekend,” said Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard finished third in Monaco and has already won one race this season. “Red Bull are still the favorites, but they won’t dominate like they did in the past, which is good for the championship,” said Sainz, who will have to vacate his Scuderia cockpit for Lewis Hamilton next year.

For Leclerc, his first victory since July 2022 should also be an emotional turning point. “I am convinced that this is a milestone in his career. He will be even stronger now,” said Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur, who jumped into the harbor basin together with his number one driver. “It’s a great feeling that we are back at the front of the fight,” said Vasseur: “Now there are finally three teams at the front again. I hope that it continues like this in the championship until the end.”

Source: Stern

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