OCTOBER 7, 2022
Verstappen calm amid title pressure, budget cap saga
Max Verstappen is cutting a relaxed figure in the Suzuka paddock as he faces his second 'match point' for a dominant second consecutive title win.
The Dutchman says even the furore surrounding Red Bull's alleged breach of the budget cap is not bothering him, after the FIA delayed the release of its findings until Monday - the day after the Japanese GP.
A win and fastest lap for Verstappen, 25, means Ferrari's Charles Leclerc will no longer even be in contention for the world championship with a full four races still to run after Japan.
"Realistically, I think Max is going to be a champion - if not this weekend, it's going to be very, very soon," said Leclerc on Thursday.
Verstappen said at Suzuka: "It would be very nice if it happens here, but if it doesn't happen here it will be even more in my favour at the next race.
"Of course, I need a perfect weekend to be able to clinch the title here. But to be honest, I'm not really thinking about it too much."
And with the budget cap saga on the back burner until next week, Verstappen says his mind isn't on that, either.
"To be honest, I'm not really busy with these kinds of things," he said.
"I mean, it's up to the teams and with the FIA, and I just have to focus on the driving. I guess we'll find out on Monday."
Although there are reports that Red Bull's transgression was in fact 'minor' and a light penalty is expected, the most extreme interpretations of the scandal is that Lewis Hamilton may be declared 2021 world champion.
The seven time world champion admits he had doubts about Red Bull's spending amid that ultra-close championship battle with Verstappen last year.
"I remember that I needed more updates after Silverstone, but then I saw the trucks from these guys (Red Bull) keep delivering updates for the other car," said Hamilton.
"I thought 'Man, it's going to be hard to beat them in the championship if they keep updating'.
"If we had spent 300,000 pounds on a new floor or wing it would have changed the outcome of the championship. So I hope that's not the case."
Recent comments by both George Russell and technical boss Mike Elliot have hinted that Mercedes has identified the weakness with its 2022 car and will correct it for next year.
Team boss Toto Wolff said last week he thinks Hamilton, 37, could commit for five more years - with his current deal running out at the end of 2023.
"I couldn't say. It's possible," Hamilton smiled at Suzuka.
"I feel good, I love what I do, we have a lot of work to do and a lot to achieve still. I don't plan to stop anytime soon."