Motor racing: Formula One world champion Verstappen enjoying 'more fun times' with Red Bull

Red Bull's world champion Dutch driver Max Verstappen at F1 pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on March 10, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN (AFP, REUTERS) - World champion Max Verstappen said on Thursday (March 10) that he was relishing more fun times with Red Bull after being rewarded with a five-year contract extension after last season's thrilling Formula One victory.

The 24-year-old Dutch driver beat Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in a last-lap sprint at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi to claim his first world title.

"Of course the success is very important, that's what we were targeting and we achieved in the championship last year, that was necessary, let's say it like that," Verstappen told journalists at pre-season testing in Bahrain ahead of the March 20 season-opener.

"But I also find it important that you have a good time while in F1 and you have actually fun with the people you're travelling with, and I definitely have that, so why would you change that?"

He insisted that he was confident of adapting despite prolonging his contract beyond the introduction of new motors in the championship in 2026.

"I feel really well within the team. I have been part of the team for a couple of years now," continued Verstappen, whose previous contract ran until 2023.

"Like my previous deal, it was also a few unknown things but I trust the team that everything will be fine because they have shown before that they can handle these situations really well.

"And I just believe in the whole project also, going forward, what's coming and enjoy working with everyone in the team and I just have a very good time, so that's why it was quite a straightforward decision at the end."

However, the Dutch driver said that he would not be returning to the Netflix Formula One series Drive To Survive, which he believes "exaggerated" the rivalry between drivers.

"I think that was already ruined after season one. I think I'm quite a down-to-earth guy, and I just want it to be facts and don't hype it up."

Verstappen arrived in Formula One in 2015, aged 17, with Toro Rosso, Red Bull's sister team.

He was promoted in 2016, winning his first Grand Prix with Red Bull in Spain to become the youngest winner in history, aged 18 years and 228 days.

He is also the youngest to start a Grand Prix, to score points and to claim a podium place.

Magnussen accepted Haas offer before thinking

Meanwhile, Danish driver Kevin Magnussen said he had given up hope of a Formula One comeback until Haas team boss Guenther Steiner offered him the seat of sacked Russian Nikita Mazepin.

The 29-year-old told reporters he accepted immediately.

"I wasn't really thinking about Formula One a lot," said Magnussen, who competed in sports cars in the United States last year and was set to race for Peugeot in the world endurance championship as well as entering Le Mans with his father Jan.

"I'd kind of really, truly accepted that Formula One was a closed chapter."

Magnussen said he saw Haas had terminated Mazepin's contract but did not think he had a chance of returning to the team he last raced for in 2020.

Mazepin's billionaire father, now on the European Union sanctions list after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, had provided the team's title sponsorship and Magnussen assumed Haas would want a replacement with funding.

Their other driver is Ferrari-backed Mick Schumacher, son of seven-time champion Michael.

"I don't bring a lot other than just my driving skills to a team so I thought that was still not going to be a possibility and then Guenther called me and that was a big surprise," said Magnussen at testing in Bahrain.

"I felt really excited when he called me and asked if I wanted to come back. "I said yes immediately. Then afterwards I kind of thought about it."

Magnussen said a rules revolution for 2022 opened the possibility of better opportunities. The comeback will be his second in a career that started with McLaren in 2014 before stalling after a year on the sidelines in 2015.

Informed by e-mail on his birthday that McLaren were casting him aside, he joined Renault at short notice before the start of the 2016 season when Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado lost his funding.

Magnussen then moved to US-owned Haas for 2017. He spoke last year of lost motivation as a backmarker in 2020 and not wanting to return unless he had a chance of winning, but those comments were easily shrugged off on Thursday.

"It's one thing saying all that stuff when you don't have an opportunity to go to Formula One," he said.

"When you actually have an opportunity to go back, it's different. "It's also a way of coping. There's no reason to look back. I got asked quite a lot 'would you like to go back' and I got tired of all those questions. It's easier to deal with if you say "No, I'm looking forward, I've moved on'.

"But when you get that opportunity, you take it."

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