Mercedes will struggle to intervene in the new Max Verstappen versus Charles Leclerc head-to-head for the 2022 title.
“It’s a new rivalry now,” claims Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko, outlining his view that Ferrari’s Leclerc has picked up where Lewis Hamilton left off at the end of last season.
“Mercedes is at least half a second too slow at the moment, but who knows, they may be able to solve their problems,” he added. “But while they improve, we won’t sleep.”
Indeed, as he battled to the point of exhaustion simply to score a single point on Sunday, Mercedes’ Hamilton had bad news for his fans – the reigning world champion team is not yet making progress.
“All I know is that I couldn’t keep up with the Haas in the end,” he said.
George Russell, who was more competitive in Saudi Arabia, added: “We are making baby steps at the moment and we need to make some bigger leaps.
“I’m sure we can do that but the timeline – I don’t know.”
For his part, Marko is not disappointed that Saudi Arabia GP winner Max Verstappen looks unlikely to reignite the intense battle with Hamilton in 2022.
“I think it’s a better fight with Leclerc and Ferrari than it was with Mercedes. It is now on a more sporting level,” said the Austrian.
“I know we’ve only had two races, but I don’t think it will escalate like with Mercedes.”
What is even clearer in his mind is that Mercedes will struggle to recover from its dire start to the brand new ‘ground effect’ regulations era.
“As things stand at present, it will be a duel between Max and Leclerc,” said Marko. “Even if Mercedes catches up, I don’t think they can match this pace over a race distance.”
It is clear that Verstappen and Leclerc also share a mutual respect that was lacking in the previous Hamilton duel, with the Ferrari driver confirming: “The respect between Max and I was always there, especially when a race ends like this.”
Former Red Bull driver Robert Doornbos said: “For a moment I had the idea that Max was a bit too aggressive, but he has also really matured in that.
“He is fighting a different battle than with Hamilton and thinking more. With Lewis you had the impression that he wanted to show ‘the new King is here’.
“Now with Leclerc we see they are racing hard, but fair,” the Dutchman added.
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