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Why Marko is predicting an even stronger Verstappen in 2022

New World Champion Max Verstappen is set for a bright year in 2022 as he no longer feels the pressure of chasing his first world title, according to Helmut Marko.

Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko says World Champion Max Verstappen felt good behind the wheel of the team's new RB18 from his very first lap. The drinks-backed squad ended the first week of pre-season testing at Barcelona second to Mercedes on the combined timesheets, but neither Verstappen nor teammate Sergio Perez used Soft tyres, while Lewis Hamilton and George Russell did. "Max told me that he felt good in the new car from the first lap in the Red Bull RB18 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya," Marko told German publication Auto, Motor und Sport .

RB18 has “a lot of potential” to unlock

With its RB16B challenger having been embroiled in a season-long title battle with Mercedes, there were questions over how much of Red Bull's development in 2021 would have been given over to the RB18, built to the new-for-2022 technical regulations. However, when the RB18 broke cover in Barcelona , it set tongues wagging throughout the pit lane with its eye-catching design and unconventional sidepods, and Marko said he was confident the car would be on the pace, even if there might still be room for improvement. "Of course, there will still be some teething problems that we have to solve, but we haven't driven a metre on the Soft tyres and our car certainly didn't have the least amount of fuel on board," said Marko. "[Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey] tells us what to do. "In any case, the car seems to have a lot of potential."

Weight lifted from Verstappen's shoulders

With Verstappen snatching his first World Championship crown in dramatic fashion at the last race of the 2021 season, Marko says a weight has been lifted from the Dutchman's shoulders. Fresh from that triumph, the 24-year-old has also agreed a bumper contract extension with Red Bull that ties him to the Milton Keynes-based team until 2028. "The pressure of the world title has now fallen off Max; that takes a load off his shoulders," Marko added. "I therefore still see a lot of potential in him."

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