Verstappen and Red Bull are beatable: Ferrari and McLaren smell blood

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Competitors of Max Verstappen believe Red Bull is beatable
17 May at 09:47
Last update 17 May at 09:53

After Lando Norris's victory in Miami, the F1 paddock has revived itself a bit. Many thought Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing would be undefeated champions in 2024. It turns out they are beatable after all. Here's the report from the first day in the paddock in Imola.

In Bahrain after the first day of testing, the mood was low among many of Red Bull Racing's rivals. The world champions had taken another big leap forward over the winter and had again distanced themselves from their rivals. Competitors who thought they would get closer in 2023 seemed completely out of sorts.

Teams believed it wouldn't be worth battling with Red Bull. 19 drivers were already hopeless for the world title. Fernando Alonso and George Russell stated that Max Verstappen would win it all this year. That has changed coming into Imola after Lando Norris' stunning maiden victory in Miami.

Ferrari and McLaren smell their chance for more wins

"There were some signs already in the past. I think in Las Vegas, we came close. Unfortunately, a bad safety car didn't help us. So we know that on weekends when they may be a bit outside their optimum window of their car, there's an opportunity. We just need to be there whenever there's this opportunity. In Miami, unfortunately, we were a little bit less strong compared to McLaren. And they were also a little bit luckier in the race," Leclerc stated in Italy.

Ferrari come into their home race with a lot of confidence. The team has brought a mountain of updates for the first race on European soil and hopes to take a similar step as McLaren did in Miami. These updates were briefly tested during a filming day at Fiorano, and the team are very optimistic.

At McLaren, too, the mood is good. Norris did not sleep again until Monday night after his victory on Sunday in Miami, and so celebrated his first win in F1 in style. Norris' win was partly due to the safety car, but he also said that was not the only reason to be optimistic: "I know Max had damage and all of this, and people like to use that, but even before he had damage, we were still quicker than him by a fairly big chunk."

According to Norris, a McLaren should have been in pole position on Friday and at least on the front row of the grid on Saturday. The failure to do so is something McLaren and himself need to work on. Oscar Piastri will also have full access to the new updates in Imola, giving McLaren two cars with a chance of fighting at the front.

With two teams finally hoping to go on the attack against Red Bull Racing, the question is how the team and their drivers will cope. Ferrari will come to Imola with updates to their cars. With these, they hopes to take another step forward. Verstappen also thinks the focus should be on that. Improving their own team and car, as they have been doing for years.

Why Verstappen looked irritated in Imola

While speaking to the press in Imola, Max Verstappen looked fairly agitated. "Well, I think already that the first five races were not as straightforward as some people tried to make it out, because it's always about attention to detail where you make differences, and some weekends were a bit better than others. But I do think already from the start of the year the other teams are closer compared to last year. I do think that as a team we had quite a good start to the year where we did quite a lot of things right."

"It seems like there is no challenge. I'm challenging every single weekend to try and get the most out of it. For me it's never boring, because I don't need another team or another driver to give me that challenge. I'm in a constant challenge with myself to try and get the best out of things. It's not like I'm missing something or that I'm waiting for something to come to suddenly feel more appreciation or more validation than what we're doing."

Later in the day, Verstappen was asked by GPblog if it irritates him that these questions insinuate he has not been challenged in recent years. Verstappen said: "No. I just do my thing on the track and then go home and do my thing there. Then I don't think about Formula 1. Maybe other people should do that too."

So Verstappen is clear: McLaren and Ferrari are already closer to Red Bull from day one in 2024 than they were in 2023. That Red Bull still managed to win so often was simply because they maximised the first few weeks of the season, where the competition may not have done so. It is up to Verstappen and Red Bull's competitors to bring back the excitement for the world title. Not up to Max. He is just doing his thing and is the best at the moment. It's up to the rest to chase that level.