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Stoddie Straight: Verstappen a class of his own, Mercedes and Ferrari in real trouble

RacingNews365's new expert columnist, former Formula 1 team principal Paul Stoddart, reviews all the big talking points from the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

In his first appearance as RacingNews365 ’s expert columnist, former Formula 1 team principal Paul Stoddart explains why he thinks Red Bull will ‘walk’ the championships, gives his verdict on Mercedes’ plight, and predicts that there will be more to come from Aston Martin.

Game over after Red Bull’s sterling start?

Max is in a class of his own, and he's got the confidence. Winning that world championship in 2021, in the most difficult of circumstances throughout the year – and I'm not just talking about the last race – he came out of that as an absolute champion. He carried it into 2022, he had the DNFs at the start, he had the car problems, but he just had consistency and confidence. I met him in the middle of last year when he drove our two-seater cars, and he's just got everything it takes. He’s in a really good place, the team is in a really good place, and I think he'll just walk the championship. The track surface is very different for the next race in Saudi Arabia, and then you’ve got Melbourne, which is a very fast track. I think by the time we finish the race in Melbourne we will know the running order for certain, but the early signs are certainly looking to be in Red Bull’s favour. Don't forget that the aero cost cap penalties are not going to affect them yet, this car was built last year when they didn't have any aero penalties!

Iconic Formula 1 teams stutter

Then at the other end of the scale you've got the teams that are struggling. McLaren are in deep, deep trouble, and are Ferrari going to really have reliability problems again this year? It certainly looks like it. Obviously the other one that's in deep trouble seems to be Mercedes. I wouldn't really want to be Toto Wolff at the moment! Mercedes are in trouble because the design direction of their car seems to be wrong, and if they're going to change that, then they're going to come up against the budget cap. Gone are the days when they could just spend their way out of things. It’s going to be a lot harder now. For teams that are used to spending half-a-billion dollars a year to drop to $140m is a serious setback. If you want to take a car that's just not performing and go back to the factory guys and say ‘guys, this is not working, let's have Plan B’, well gone are the days when you could just parallel design a completely new chassis, or a new aero package, and just buy your way out of it. You can make your gains, but it's at the expense of something else. So, I think Mercedes are in real trouble. Despite it being only race one, I don't know how they’re going to get their way out of this one.

Aston Martin can replicate Red Bull’s template for success

I’m so proud of Fernando, and I’m so happy for him because he really deserves a front-running team. He should have been a four-time World Champion. He should have won two more championships, if it wasn't for things that just didn't go his way. Certainly, Fernando's the right person to be driving that car. He'll lead that team, and the work, the effort and, most importantly, the money is all there. Lawrence Stroll’s ability to be able to fund and build a world championship team is there, because obviously the budget cap counts only on the car, but it doesn't count when you're building new wind tunnels, new factories, and things like that. I think this result is an early sign of things to come. It reminds me very much of Red Bull in 2004, when they took over Jaguar. It’s very much the same sort of thing: They took over the Milton Keynes-based team, which had a couple of hundred people in workforce, built it up and built it up and, years later, we're talking about a World Championship-winning team. I can easily see Aston going the same way. They’ve got somebody behind the team that is passionate, the same way Dietrich Mateschitz was with Red Bull, and able to fund it, as is the case again with Red Bull. He'll certainly prove his worth, and I think you will see them as the second fastest team or the third fastest team fighting with Ferrari.

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