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‘No one is going to catch Max’: Wolff says F1 title is already Verstappen’s to lose
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‘No one is going to catch Max’: Wolff says F1 title is already Verstappen’s to lose

The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, has conceded Max ­Verstappen is already world champion elect, declaring the Red Bull driver cannot be caught this season after a third dominant win from four races.

Verstappen won from pole at the Japanese Grand Prix with a series of relentless precision laps that ensured he was unchallenged at the front and took the flag more than 12 seconds clear of his Red Bull teammate, Sergio Pérez. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who was third, was 20 seconds behind the world champion. Verstappen has a 13-point lead over Pérez in the world championship.

Mercedes, who are enduring their third difficult season since new regulations began in 2022, could manage only seventh and ninth for George Russell and Lewis Hamilton respectively and Wolff stated the title was as good as in Verstappen’s hands with 20 races to come and that his team were at best in a fight for second.

“No one is going to catch Max this year,” Wolff said. “His driving and the car are just spectacular. You can see the way he manages the tyres and basically this season now is best of the rest. That’s the fact, that is all, but hopefully we can catch up to the McLarens and to the Ferraris and fight for P2. This is what it is this year and what is was last year and we had a P2 last year.”

Even achieving a second‑place ­finish this season looks a big ask for Mercedes and Wolff admitted that was not an edifying position for the team that won eight consecutive constructors’ championships from 2014.

“If I was to look from a pure ­sporting point of view it is P1 which matters, not P2, P3 or P4, but this is the reality that we are facing at the moment. We’re trying to do the best out of this new reality and that is to beat our competitors whilst acknowledging that somebody is just doing a better job and setting the benchmark that we eventually need to set ourselves again.”

George Russell (top) sends smoke up from his Mercedes tyres on his way to a seventh-place finish at the Japanese GP.View image in fullscreen

Wolff indicated Mercedes were considering the next main regulation change of 2026 as a target time to catch Red Bull. “In 2026 there is a big reset that certainly provides the most realistic opportunity for any other team to beat Red Bull but there is one and a quarter seasons until then and I don’t want too much suffering in the next 18 months,” he said.

Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, played down ­Verstappen’s advantage. “It’s very early to write off the year,” he said. “There’s still 20 races to go and I’ve learned not to listen too much to what Toto says over the years.”

Horner conceded, however, that Verstappen was in an outstanding position and would be able to up the ante if required.

“He’s fit, he’s lean and the car’s in a great window. You can hear the spare capacity he has in the car. He’s wanting to know about not just who is behind him, but who is behind him as well, what lap times are they doing. The capacity he has is very impressive. The form that he had last year has just carried through.”

Source: theguardian.com