F1 season preview as Max Verstappen looks to defend world title
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Max Verstappen will arrive in Saudi Arabia a day later than planned ahead of this weekend’s Grand Prix after being struck down with a stomach bug. Red Bull have issued a statement explaining the Dutchman’s absence, which will surely hamper his preparation for the race in Jeddah.
Verstappen got his second consecutive world title defence off to the perfect start two weeks ago by crossing the line first in Bahrain. Many expect the 25-year-old to power on towards a third championship, with Red Bull once again establishing themselves as the class of the field.
Team boss Christian Horner had warned that the race could tighten up in Jeddah this weekend, however, and his prediction could come true with Verstappen recently falling ill. The Red Bull star was due to appear on track this Thursday but was forced to postpone his flight for a day due to illness.
Verstappen claims that normal service should resume on Friday, when two practice sessions are scheduled to take place.
“Feeling fine again, after not being fit for a few days because of a stomach bug,” he wrote on Twitter. “Therefore, I unfortunately had to postpone my flight for a day, so I won’t be on the track until Friday. See you in Jeddah!”
Meanwhile, Red Bull’s official Twitter account added: “Max has been suffering from a stomach illness over the past few days and, with the agreement of the FIA, will not be present at track today. Feel better, Max.”
It remains to be seen whether Verstappen feeling under the weather will affect his performance in Jeddah this weekend. His team-mate Sergio Perez took second spot in Bahrain last time out, while the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz will hope to close the gap on their rivals.
Mercedes’ early-season issues could prevent them from getting in the mix, although team principal Toto Wolff claims that a small upgrade package will be in effect. Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has already commented on Verstappen’s chances of winning this season’s title, claiming that his rival should feel ‘very confident’.
“I think he will be very, very confident,” explained the Brit. “I don’t think he will slip up. He’s a World Champion, so I wouldn’t question his determination and his focus. I think he will be just as focused as ever and it’s our job to catch up.”
Hamilton has been unable to mix it with Verstappen since their breathtaking title battle in 2021, with Mercedes struggling to keep up while using their ‘skinny sidepod’ design, which Wolff suggests will be scrapped this year.
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