McLaren's Lando Norris acknowledges he does not "push the limits" as much as World Champion Max Verstappen does, as he prepares to do battle with the Dutchman in the new Formula One campaign. 

Norris finished sixth in the 2021 Drivers' Championship standings but has been tipped by many to fare better when the 2022 Formula One season begins with Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Norris watched on as Verstappen beat Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton to the drivers' title in contentious circumstances last year, attracting criticism from some quarters for what has been perceived as an aggressive driving style. 

Speaking ahead of this weekend's curtain-raiser in Bahrain, the 22-year-old said he was not sure how he would deal with a rival as combative as Verstappen.

"It's a different battle, because of how Max races," Norris said. 

"It's a different breed of drivers. You saw how he drove and changed when it came down to those final races, with aggression.

"It's maybe something you don't experience so much in the midfield because you're not going for a world championship, or some of the drivers don't have that mentality of risking everything.

"You would try and play smart as much as you can [when facing a rival like Verstappen].

"But I'm also a fair racer and, I don't know, maybe don't push the limits quite as much in certain areas."

Both Norris and new Mercedes driver George Russell are aiming to become the first British driver other than Lewis Hamilton to win a race for almost a decade, with Jenson Button the last to do so when winning the Brazilian Grand Prix in November 2012.

Meanwhile, McLaren are just seven podium finishes away from reaching a total of 500 in Formula One, with Norris recording four such finishes across the 2021 campaign.

Lewis Hamilton was hurting after the remarkable conclusion to the 2021 season, but he has had time to reset and prepare for another tilt at a record-breaking eighth Formula One drivers' championship.

Hamilton was denied the title in dramatic fashion last year, when a highly contentious decision from then race director Michael Masi gave Max Verstappen the opportunity to pass him on the final lap of the season to be crowned champion for the first time.

Mercedes feared Hamilton would quit the sport as a result, but the man Toto Wolff described as a "lion" in last season's run-in is ready to fight again – starting at this week's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Not that Hamilton is expecting this season to be any more straightforward than the last.

Verstappen has proven he can match Hamilton over the course of a campaign, while George Russell will hope to prove more competitive than Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes seat. The new F1 regulations also mean a potential challenge from the midfield, with Ferrari fast in pre-season.

"We're certainly not at the top," a pessimistic Hamilton said last week, but Verstappen dismissed those comments while acknowledging Ferrari's pace.

The Red Bull superstar suggested Hamilton and Mercedes would quickly turn their fortunes around – and that certainly fits with the Briton's career to date.

"He's an exceptional driver," former Ferrari star Felipe Massa told Stats Perform, "one who is undoubtedly the main man in the sport today because of the records he holds in Formula One.

"No one ever imagined that he would even come close to beating [Michael] Schumacher's records. He overtook pretty much everyone else. One more title is missing to go ahead as a record holder."

That eighth title will remain the goal this year, but Hamilton could move ahead of Schumacher in another sense as soon as Sunday; he has won in 15 consecutive F1 seasons since 2007, meaning victory in a 16th would top the German (1992-2006).

 

Hamilton's happy hunting ground

In pursuit of that new benchmark, Hamilton will be happy to be back in Bahrain, where he has such an outstanding history.

Of the 17 editions of the Bahrain GP, Hamilton has won a record five races, including the past three. No other driver has won three in succession at this event – and that sequence could be extended to four this week.

Mercedes have recorded the most pole positions (six) and podiums (15) at the Bahrain Grand Prix, ranking one ahead of Ferrari in each category.

The Silver Arrows and the Scuderia are tied for Bahrain wins (six) and fastest laps (five) heading into the 2022 race.

We are in a special week for Mercedes, too, as this is the team's 250th grand prix. With 124 victories so far, they could mark the occasion by improving their win rate to an outstanding 50 per cent, the best such performance by any one team.

Red Bull set for reality check?

Verstappen's record at this track is not quite so impressive, even if he almost beat Hamilton last season having started from pole, forced to give his place back after exceeding track limits in passing his rival.

That was Verstappen's seventh Bahrain GP without victory – an eighth fruitless appearance would make this the grand prix he has entered most without winning.

He has retired three times at the Bahrain GP and, including the 2020 Sakhir GP, a career-high four times at this circuit.

The Dutchman at least has the benefit of the confidence of his championship triumph – and a "ridiculously fast" Red Bull, according to Hamilton – but first-time champions have not typically fared well in the first race of their title defence.

Only three of the past 14 first-time defending champions have won on the first weekend of the new season: Michael Schumacher in 1995, Fernando Alonso in 2006 and Sebastian Vettel in 2011.

At least securing pole would mean a positive omen, as Red Bull drivers have gone on to win the title on the four previous occasions they have started the season by qualifying fastest (Vettel in 2010, 2011 and 2013, plus Verstappen last year).

Hamilton in 2015 and 2016 was the last driver to achieve back-to-back Bahrain poles, although only seven Bahrain GP winners have started from the front of the grid.

Max Verstappen has responded with scepticism to Lewis Hamilton's claims Mercedes will not be competing for victories in the early stages of the 2022 Formula One season.

Verstappen, who beat Hamilton to the 2021 Drivers' Championship in controversial circumstances at last December's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, posted the fastest time on the final day of pre-season testing in Bahrain on Saturday.

Ahead of Bahrain hosting the first Grand Prix of the season next week, Hamilton suggested Mercedes will likely not be competing for early season wins, due to problems with the team's new W13 car.

His rival Verstappen, however, scoffed at those comments, accusing Mercedes, and other Formula One teams, of playing down their potential before the season begins.

"[It's] always like this," the world champion said in quotes reported by Autosport.

"If someone is doing well or a team that everyone expects to do well, then it's 'oh no, we're definitely not the favourite'.

"And then a week later, when things do go well, all of a sudden it's 'oh no, but we turned it around completely within a week. Not normal, unbelievable work. Thanks to all people in the factory!'"

 

Verstappen also noted Mercedes were "very strong during the first race weekend" in 2021, with Hamilton winning the season opener in Bahrain after making similar comments about the team's issues this time last year.

The 24-year-old also spoke of Ferrari as potential rivals for Red Bull during the coming season, noting they had been "consistently fast" throughout pre-season.

"They [Ferrari] clearly have a stable car at the moment," he added.

"It just looks good for them, they have had very few problems as well. We will see next week who is fastest, but so far, they have had a very good test.

"The last two years weren't great for them, so you automatically start looking at this season a bit earlier than some of the other teams. It's more than normal that they started earlier than us on the 2022 car and that's okay as well.

"In the end, with these new cars, the development rate during the season is the most important thing."

Max Verstappen has played down projections on Red Bull's pace, heading into next weekend's Formula One season opener in Bahrain.

The reigning world champion set the fastest time during the final pre-season test at Sakhir - where next week's opener will also be held - almost a full seven tenths quicker than Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in second, and nearly a second quicker than Alpine's Fernando Alonso in third.

However, the 24-year-old asserted Red Bull were more concerned with gathering tyre data at the test than lighting up the timesheets.

"Nobody is [giving it] full beans in qualifying-spec at the moment," Verstappen said. "Of course the car is better in low fuel and actually on the high fuel the car doesn't really do a lot, but it's the same for everyone.

"It was just a general progression of the day and we were just trying a few different tyres. But I think the main focus was about the tyres, we're going to use next week. But the car was feeling alright, and we went through our programme which we planned to do, and that's always positive."

Along with this season's regulation changes on tyre diameter, Verstappen was also quick to point out car response to the Sakhir circuit's more favourable conditions, in comparison to the opening pre-season test in Barcelona.

"You know, compared to Barcelona I think more of it is just the track - the rough surface, warmer conditions, and the layout of the track makes it a completely different feeling compared to Barcelona," he said.

"But yes, of course, I think we learned a lot more about the cars, so we made the car faster, and I think that's what you want.

"I think with the new parts, which arrived today, they also worked well, which you always hope for. They worked, so then hopefully we'll keep them on [for the opening race]."

The 2021 Formula One title race was one for the ages.

Fortunately, the release of season four of Netflix's 'Drive to Survive' series is landing on Friday, giving fans the opportunity to relive the drama and whetting appetites for the forthcoming 2022 campaign.

Few will forget how last season ended, with Max Verstappen pipping Lewis Hamilton in scarcely believable circumstances on the final lap of the final race.

But there had been controversy throughout the year even before that point, making the latest edition of one of sport's great documentaries a must-watch.

Fans will be desperate to learn how 2021 played out behind the scenes, but what should they be looking for? Stats Perform picks out five flashpoints.

Silverstone contact sets the tone

A back-and-forth title tussle between Verstappen and Hamilton was already nine races old by the time the teams arrived at Silverstone – at which point the 'Drive to Survive' producers must have thought they had hit the jackpot.

Hamilton ended a five-race barren run for Mercedes with victory in his home race, but only after sending Verstappen into the barriers at Copse Corner on lap one – a 10-second penalty of little consolation to Red Bull, whose team principal Christian Horner slammed the 2020 champion's "dirty driving".

Seeing the reaction on the pit wall would be of interest to any fan, although this clash merely teed up the drama to come.

Mixed fortunes for furious Lewis in the wet

Two races last year descended into chaos due to the weather, with Verstappen winning in Belgium while Hamilton triumphed in Russia, benefiting from Lando Norris' spin in the rain for his 100th victory. That Sochi result cancelled out events at Spa, where Hamilton had been far from impressed.

Viewers will likely learn more about developments at the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix from 'Drive to Survive' than from live coverage at the time, as the race lasted just two laps under a safety car following Sunday rain.

That was enough to declare a result with half points, with Verstappen rewarded for pipping breakout star George Russell to pole. In public, Hamilton fumed it was "all a money scenario", and it is unlikely he was any calmer in private.

McLaren one-two after halo saves Hamilton

Between Belgium and Russia was the Italian GP at Monza, with perhaps the scariest moment of the season. Verstappen's battle with Hamilton went a little too far as he rode over the Briton's car, with the Mercedes halo required to keep the driver from serious harm.

"I am so grateful I am still here," said Hamilton after being forced to retire, with Verstappen later following him back into the garage.

The documentary cameras surely could not miss this key moment in the title race, but 'Drive to Survive' has been hugely successful in picking out narratives right down the grid – and this was a notable weekend in the midfield, as McLaren profited with a one-two courtesy of Daniel Ricciardo and Norris.

Hamilton heroics at special Sao Paulo GP

Verstappen arrived in Brazil 19 points clear of Hamilton with four races remaining, and the odds were increasingly stacked against his rival over the course of the weekend at the Sao Paulo GP.

Hamilton served a five-place grid penalty when his qualifying time – the fastest on the grid – was struck off for a DRS infringement, meaning he had to start from 10th even after recovering from 20th to fifth in the sprint race. Verstappen escaped punishment when he forced the Mercedes man wide in the main race, too.

Remarkably, Hamilton still won, with Toto Wolff claiming the various setbacks had "woke up the lion". There would have been no final-day spectacle if not for the Briton's late-season charge, which started in Brazil.

Two weeks of epic drama decide title

The final episode of the season will surely focus on the decider in Abu Dhabi, where race director Michael Masi's application of the rules infuriated Mercedes as Hamilton was denied a record-breaking eighth championship in fairly ridiculous fashion.

Footage from that race should entertain even F1 sceptics, with Wolff likely to play a prominent role having pleaded with Masi not to make the contentious call that cost Hamilton and crowned Verstappen.

But the stakes were only such because the pair had entered that race all square in the standings – only the second time this had ever happened – after a similarly eventful Saudi Arabian GP.

Verstappen could have wrapped up the title with time to spare but lost out to Hamilton after a qualifying crash, two red flags and a succession of safety cars, hinting at the level of incident that was to come the following week.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner disagrees with the decision to remove controversial Formula One race director Michael Masi.

Masi was offered a new role elsewhere in the FIA after being replaced by two men in Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas for the 2022 season.

The Australian official was at the forefront of the controversy surrounding Max Verstappen's title triumph last year.

Verstappen pipped Lewis Hamilton in the final lap of the final race, but he was only able to stage that late recovery after Masi let the cars between the pair – running first and second but separated by a series of lapped rivals – pass a safety car and allow one lap of racing.

Verstappen, on fresher tyres, prevailed, prompting a protest from Hamilton and Mercedes that failed – although Masi has now been removed from his role.

"It's going to be interesting to see how that works," Horner told BBC Breakfast on Monday.

"For me, you want consistency. Having one race director, for me, was preferential, rather than splitting that role.

"We have a new president [Mohammed Ben Sulayem] who has come in and inherited this situation, and he's looked to impose change.

"It's great that Herbie Blash, a very experienced race control member, is coming back into the fray as well, so we will see how it pans out.

"But I thought it was harsh on Michael Masi that he was replaced after a lot of pressure being put on him. Everything is back to zero, new season, new regulations."

Wittich and Freitas will have to deal with a similarly tense, tight title race, though, according to Horner.

"It has been so intense," said Horner. "I think you might get a couple of other drivers come into that fray as well.

"It was epic last year, and if that continues I think there's going to be some fantastic races in the season ahead.

"It's great for the sport. The sport has never had so much coverage and so much following. The following in the sport has gone exponential over the last season, and that's great to see."

World champion Max Verstappen has extended his contract with Red Bull until the end of 2028.

The new deal, confirmed on Thursday, was hailed as a "real statement of intent" by team principal Christian Horner.

Verstappen now has the longest contract of any driver on the Formula One grid and will spend what should be his peak years with Red Bull.

On the back of claiming his maiden world title in the most dramatic of circumstances last season, the 24-year-old is out to make more history in the 2022 campaign.

With the aid of Opta, Stats Perform takes a look at the numbers behind Verstappen's impressive career.

 

- At the age of 24 years, two months and 12 days at the time of the eventful 2021 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December, Verstappen became the fourth-youngest driver to win an F1 world title, behind only Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

- Should he hold off Mercedes' Hamilton – and indeed any other contenders – by coming out on top again this year, the Dutchman would become the second-youngest driver to win multiple world titles after Vettel (24y, 3m, 6d).

- The 10 race victories recorded by Verstappen in 2021 were as many as he managed in his previous seven seasons combined – five years with Red Bull and two with Toro Rosso – with his three victories in 2019 a previous season's best prior to last year.

- On top of his 20 victories across eight years with Red Bull and Toro Rosso, spanning some 141 grands prix, Verstappen has finished on the podium 60 times – 18 of those coming last season alone. That set a new F1 record as he went past the previous mark of 17 podiums, jointly held by Michael Schumacher, Hamilton and Vettel, albeit Verstappen benefited from having more races than in previous seasons.

- The six fastest laps recorded by Verstappen in 2021 was another career high, double his previous best from 2019 and 2020 when finishing third in the drivers' standings on both occasions. 

- Verstappen is the first Dutchman to hold claim to being F1 world champion, making the Netherlands the 15th different nationality for a winning driver. He is Red Bull's second world champion, meanwhile, following Vettel's four-year reign on top between 2010 and 2013.

Christian Horner says Red Bull have made a "statement of intent" by tying "the best driver on the grid" Max Verstappen to a new long-term contract.

It was announced on Thursday the Formula One world champion has extended his stay with Red Bull until at least the end of the 2028 season.

The Dutchman's previous deal only ran until next year, so the team were eager to reach an agreement before he starts the defence of his title at the Bahrain Grand Prix later this month.

Team principal Horner believes Red Bull have demonstrated that they plan to be a force for years to come by retaining Verstappen.

"To have Max signed with Red Bull through to the end of '28 is a real statement of intent," Horner said.

"Our immediate focus is on retaining Max's world championship title, but this deal also shows he is part of the team's long-term planning.

"With the Red Bull Powertrains division working towards the new engine regulations for 2026, we wanted to make sure we had the best driver on the grid secured for that car."

Verstappen was crowned F1 champion for the first time last year in controversial fashion after overtaking title rival Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The 24-year-old is hungry for more success following that maiden triumph.

"I really enjoy being part of Red Bull Racing, so choosing to stay to the 2028 season was an easy decision," he said.

"I love this team and last year was simply incredible. Our goal since we came together in 2016 was to win the championship, and we have done that, so now it's about keeping the number one on the car long term."

Max Verstappen has signed a five-year contract extension with Red Bull ahead of the 2022 season.

The Formula One world champion's previous deal was due to expire next year, but his team on Thursday announced that the 24-year-old will stay on until at least the end of the 2028 season.

Verstappen claimed his first F1 title in 2021 by pipping Lewis Hamilton in controversial circumstances in Abu Dhabi.

The Dutchman said: "I really enjoy being part of Red Bull Racing, so choosing to stay to the 2028 season was an easy decision. I love this team and last year was simply incredible.

"Our goal since we came together in 2016 was to win the championship and we have done that, so now it's about keeping the number one on the car long-term."

Hamilton had seemingly won a record-breaking eighth crown last year, but Williams driver Nicholas Latifi crashed with four laps to go in Abu Dhabi, leading to the safety car coming out.

When the race restarted there was only one lap remaining and Verstappen was able to start just behind his rival despite Hamilton previously having a significant lead over him. Verstappen’s car had been fitted with new tyres, enabling him to overtake the Mercedes driver and sensationally dethrone his rival.

Verstappen would have likely been in line for a new deal regardless of that incredible outcome at the Yas Marina Circuit, with Mercedes generally seen as the only team that could compete with Red Bull from a financial perspective.

Tension between the two teams in the 2021 campaign – not to mention Mercedes already paying Hamilton a fortune – made a switch to their rivals in the near future highly unlikely.

According to reports, Verstappen's new deal puts his earnings in a similar bracket to Hamilton, with the world champion apparently set to be paid €40-50million (£33-42m) per year – the seven-time champion is said to earn €48m (£40m).

Red Bull and Verstappen will be relieved to have such formalities out of the way in plenty of time ahead of the new season, which is due to begin with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 20, the weekend after a second round of pre-season testing.

Max Verstappen has signed a five-year contract extension with Red Bull ahead of the 2022 season.

The Formula One world champion's previous deal was due to expire next year, but his team on Thursday announced that the 24-year-old will stay on until at least the end of the 2028 season.

Verstappen claimed his first F1 title in 2021 by pipping Lewis Hamilton in controversial circumstances in Abu Dhabi.

The Dutchman said: "I really enjoy being part of Red Bull Racing, so choosing to stay to the 2028 season was an easy decision. I love this team and last year was simply incredible.

"Our goal since we came together in 2016 was to win the championship and we have done that, so now it's about keeping the number one on the car long-term."

Sebastian Vettel claims he has already decided not to participate in September's Russian Grand Prix after Russia launched an attack on neighbouring Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to attack Ukraine comes just days after Moscow elected to recognise the independence of two breakaway regions in the east of the country, and has led to Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy severing diplomatic ties with Russia and declaring martial law in the country.

The attack has drawn widespread international condemnation, and has already impacted the sporting world, with UEFA likely to strip St Petersburg of May's Champions League final and the Ukrainian Premier League being suspended.

Now Vettel claims he has already made up his mind on whether he would participate in the Russian Grand Prix, currently scheduled for late September in Sochi.

"I woke up after this morning's news, [and was] shocked," the four-time Drivers' champion said.

"For myself, my opinion is I should not go, I will not go.

"I think it's wrong to race in the country. 

"I'm sorry for the innocent people that are losing their lives, that are getting killed for stupid reasons and [because of] a very, very strange and mad [Russian] leadership.

"I'm sure it's something we will talk about, but as the GPDA [Grand Prix Driver's Association, the trade union representing Formula One drivers], we haven't come together yet."

Aston Martin driver Vettel, who won four consecutive world championships between 2010 and 2013, has been a director of the GPDA since 2010, and has previously spoken out on several other issues, being reprimanded for donning a pride flag at last year's Hungarian Grand Prix, before hosting an all-women's karting race prior to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix later that year.

Two-time champion Fernando Alonso also called on Formula One to "do the best thing", while reigning world champion Max Verstappen echoed Vettel's sentiments. 

"When a country is at war it is not right to race there," Verstappen said on day two of pre-season testing in Barcelona.

Formula One had earlier refused to comment on the potential for the race to be relocated, issuing a statement which claimed it "was closely watching the very fluid developments, and at this time has no further comment on the race," and added that it will "continue to monitor the situation very closely."

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and his Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner have pledged to move on from the fierce rivalry that engulfed Formula One's leading teams last season.

December's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix saw Red Bull's Max Verstappen win his first Drivers' Championship in contentious fashion, after race director Michael Masi elected to unlap cars between Verstappen and leader Lewis Hamilton, permitting one lap of racing which saw the Dutchman snatch the title in the season's final seconds.

Mercedes reacted furiously to the result and rumours spread that a disillusioned Hamilton could even quit the sport, while Masi was removed from his role ahead of the 2022 season, with two new race directors appointed in his place.

Hamilton, however, will be going for an eighth world title this season and speaking at the first testing session in Barcelona, both Wolff and Horner were keen to draw a line under the events of 2021, and look ahead to the upcoming campaign.

"It [the rivalry] is to be expected," Wolff said in a news conference. "It got fierce at times and brutal, But there's a lot at stake.

"It's a Formula One world championship, there's the fighting on-track, and the fighting off-track for advantages. That's okay.

"But we need to move on. There's been so much talk about Abu Dhabi, it came to a point that it was really damaging for all stakeholders of F1, and we've closed the chapter and moved on.

"Now it's about 2022, the game is on again, all points to zero, new opportunity and new risk."

Lewis Hamilton has denied reports he was considering leaving Formula One, as the seven-time Drivers Champion looks to bounce back from the controversial finale to the 2021 season.

Hamilton was beaten by Red Bull's Max Verstappen in a contentious conclusion to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, after race director Michael Masi elected to allow a series of cars to pass a late safety car, permitting one lap of racing with the Dutchman on new tyres.

Masi has since been removed from his role, while rumours abounded that Hamilton could leave the sport. But, speaking at the launch of Mercedes' new W13 car, Hamilton denied that his return was ever in question.

"I never, ever said that I was going to stop", he said. "I love doing what I do, and it is such a privilege working with this large group of people.

"You really feel like you're part of a team and part of a family, working towards that common goal. There's no feeling quite like it.

"But yeah...it was obviously a difficult time for me, and it was a time where I really needed to take a step back and focus on being present."

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff had previously hinted that Hamilton was left 'disillusioned' by finishing second, but the 37-year-old now claims to be focused on making a successful start to the 2022 season next month.

He also expressed his excitement at working with new teammate George Russell, who has replaced Valtteri Bottas after leaving Williams in the off-season.

"I eventually got to a point where I decided I was going to be attacking, coming into another season working with Toto and George," he added.

"It's exciting seeing George come in and bring his energy. I can already feel that throughout the team. I think it's going to be an exciting season."

The launch of the W13 sees the German constructor return to its classic silver livery after two years using a black colourway, as part of an anti-racism campaign, and the car has been advertised by Mercedes as '98 per cent new' and as 'the product of a complete redesign from top to bottom'.

With the team bidding for a ninth consecutive Constructors' Championship title, Hamilton is keen to ensure standards remain high.

He said: "Naturally, every single individual within this team has worked towards the ultimate goal of winning the world championship, raising the bar and doing something that no one else has done before."

Michael Masi will no longer serve as race director in Formula One as the fallout from the 2021 finale in Abu Dhabi continues.

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem announced on Thursday "an in-depth reform of the organisation of refereeing and race direction" in F1, which was unanimously supported by the teams.

This followed a "detailed analysis" of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where Max Verstappen dramatically beat Lewis Hamilton to the drivers' championship last season.

Verstappen pipped Hamilton in the final lap of the final race, denying his rival a record-breaking eighth title.

However, the Red Bull superstar was only able to stage that late recovery after Masi let the cars between the pair – running first and second but separated by a series of lapped rivals – pass a safety car and allow one lap of racing.

Verstappen, on fresher tyres, prevailed, prompting a protest from Hamilton and Mercedes.

Although that bid failed, there has remained a great deal of discussion around Masi's decision-making, leading to Ben Sulayem unveiling his "new step forward in Formula One refereeing".

The most significant change made by the FIA chief is Masi's removal as race director, to be replaced by two men in Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas.

Starting from pre-season testing in Barcelona, the new pair will alternate as race director, assisted by permanent senior advisor Herbie Blash.

However, Masi is not necessarily out entirely, as Ben Sulayem added: "Michael Masi, who accomplished a very challenging job for three years as Formula One race director following Charlie Whiting, will be offered a new position within the FIA."

Other changes include a reassessment of the unlapping procedures that caused such controversy.

"Without the referees, there is no sport," Ben Sulayem said. "Respect and support of the referees is in the essence of the FIA.

"That is why these structural changes are crucial in a context of strong development and the legitimate expectations of drivers, teams, manufacturers, organisers, and of course, the fans.

"I warmly thank all those who contributed to this reform.

"These changes will enable us to start the 2022 Formula One season in the best conditions, and our sport will be even more loved and respected."

Max Verstappen insists he fully deserved his Formula One world championship triumph and does not believe the achievement has been overshadowed by the ongoing controversy around the title-deciding race.

The 24-year-old clinched his first title by pipping seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December.

Hamilton had built up a healthy lead over his Red Bull rival in the season finale, with both men having entered the race level on points, until a controversial late safety car period was followed by Verstappen overtaking the Mercedes driver on the final lap.

Mercedes were furious with how race rules were applied in a safety-car situation and challenged the result, believing Hamilton was unfairly prevented from winning the race and the championship when Verstappen passed him with only a few corners remaining.

The FIA last month announced a "detailed analysis" of the contentious ending has started, with the result of the inquiry to be released before this season's first race in Bahrain on March 20.

Regardless of the verdict reached by the sport's governing body, Verstappen does not believe the controversy detracts from his triumph.

"[The FIA] can't do anything," Verstappen told The Guardian.

Asked if he felt his maiden title triumph has been overshadowed somewhat, the Dutchman replied: "Not at all. I had a very good season and I think I really deserved it. 

"I have been really unlucky as well. People always remember the last race but, if you look at the whole season, the championship should have been decided way earlier."

Verstappen was graciously congratulated by Hamilton following his title-clinching victory in Abu Dhabi, bringing down the curtain on an eventful season that saw both drivers take it in turns to lead the standings.

A low point in the campaign for Verstappen came at the British Grand Prix in July when clashing with Hamilton on the first lap as the home favourite tried to force his way down the inside at Copse Corner.

Verstappen smashed the barriers at 180mph and therefore did not finish the race, with Hamilton finishing first and wildly celebrating his win while his title rival was being examined in hospital.

However, the Red Bull driver did not use that as extra motivation for the second half of the season.

"I don't think we work like that," he said. "It's disrespectful what happened there but we looked at what we could have done better. 

"Once we came back from the break as a team we really did a good job because we won races in the second half of the season we shouldn't have won."

While talk still rumbles on regarding the end of the 2021 season, the new campaign is now just over a month away and Verstappen has a target on his back as defending champion.

"That little pressure in the back of your mind, of having to win a world championship or trying to win it, has gone," he said. 

"It's already happened. I've done it. So when it's tough or you're having bad luck you probably will deal with it easier than normal."

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