Formula One: Verstappen won't change under spotlight as defending champion

Max Verstappen clinched his first world title in dramatic and controversial circumstances in Abu Dhabi. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Max Verstappen said he is not feeling any extra pressure as defending Formula One champion as Red Bull launched their car for the 2022 season on Wednesday (Feb 9).

The Dutchman clinched his first world title in dramatic and controversial circumstances after he passed Lewis Hamilton in a one-lap shootout at the final Grand Prix of the year in Abu Dhabi.

The fallout from the December 12 race continues with FIA race director Michael Masi's position under intense scrutiny amid an ongoing FIA inquiry into a result Hamilton claimed was "manipulated".

There were even fears Hamilton could quit the sport, but the seven-time world champion was back at Mercedes' factory this week ahead of the new season.

Verstappen and Hamilton are expected to fight it out again for the title, although a series of technical changes to the rules could add more unpredictability after years of Mercedes and Red Bull dominating the front of the grid.

"There is no reason to suddenly be different," said Verstappen on the pressure of defending his title.

"With the new regulations you have to get used to the car and that is going to be the biggest adaptation but the rest is pretty straightforward.

"It doesn't feel differently starting the year as the champion. Personally I feel good and what is important is you prepare yourself in the best way physically."

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was at the centre of an acrimonious end to last season as he and Mercedes chief Toto Wolff clashed over a number of controversial incidents between Hamilton and Verstappen.

But having finally ended Mercedes' grip on the drivers' title, Horner wants a period of Red Bull dominance.

"It will go down in history as one of the all-time great seasons. I cannot remember a year in Formula One that was so close between the top two drivers from the first race to the very last," said Horner.

"Our challenge now is to build on that. We have number one on the car and we want to keep it on the car and defend that title with Max, which with a brand new set of regulations is going to be incredibly difficult.

"Max was phenomenal. He had an outstanding season, he dominated the laps led, he won 10 grands prix and took the world championship so his confidence is going to be sky high and he will be looking to build on those performances in 2022."

Mercedes are due to unveil their car for 2022 on February 18 while the new season gets underway with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 20.

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