Verstappen faces bad luck charm as Hamilton aims to ruin title defence

Max Verstappen makes subtle dig at Lewis Hamilton in April

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Max Verstappen will have to overcome a mental hurdle if he is to get his second consecutive title defence off to a positive start in Bahrain next month. With Lewis Hamilton poised to try and chase him down, the Dutchman has traditionally found the Bahrain International Circuit an unhappy hunting ground. 

Red Bull ace Verstappen set a new record in 2022 by winning 15 Grands Prix in a single season, blitzing the field to win his second Drivers’ Championship. In the end, the 25-year-old finished a whopping 146 points clear of his nearest challenger, Charles Leclerc. 

Hamilton was way down in sixth as Mercedes grappled with porpoising issues that weren’t cleared up until the standings had already taken shape. The seven-time world champion went the whole year without a win for the first time in his glittering F1 career. 

The Silver Arrows extracted significant improvement from their car over the course of the campaign, however, with George Russell going on to notch a win in Brazil as Hamilton completed a surprise one-two.

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Team boss Toto Wolff will hope to take the fight to bitter rivals Red Bull from the start when the 2023 season gets underway in Bahrain on March 5. Promisingly for Mercedes and Ferrari, Verstappen will immediately battle a bad luck charm as he has never won on the Bahrain International Circuit in eight previous attempts. 

In fact, the Dutchman has never finished ahead of Hamilton at the venue for 2023’s curtain-raiser, where he got last campaign’s title defence off to a dismal start with a DNF. That was one of four DNFs attributed to Verstappen across eight outings in Bahrain. 

Back in 2021, the Red Bull star managed second spot behind Hamilton, a feat he repeated from the year before. The year 2019 saw Verstappen just miss out on the podium by crossing the line in P4, with Hamilton going on to win the race. 

The double world champion’s only other finish in Bahrain was back in 2016, when he clinched an impressive sixth spot while still a teenager, although Hamilton finished ahead by taking the last spot on the podium. It remains to be seen whether Verstappen can banish his demons around the Bahrain International Circuit and continue his scintillating form from last year. 

Fans don’t have long left to wait, with lights-out less than two weeks away and an intriguing pre-season test scheduled to get underway in Bahrain on Thursday. Drivers will only have three days to get used to their new machines after their testing time was controversially slashed from last year. 

With Verstappen on a roll, many have debated whether he has the potential to catch Hamilton and Michael Schumacher on seven world titles. “Only time will tell, I am not even thinking about these things at the moment,” he said. “It is more important we focus on having a competitive car and if we have a competitive car, these things can happen.”

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