Max Verstappen has admitted to feeling that his chances of securing back-to-back F1 titles were over after a “pretty terrible” start to the 2022 season, which saw him fail to score points at two of the first three races.
Verstappen dropped out of second place in Bahrain and Australia due to separate fuel issues inside his Red Bull, opening the door for Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc to surge clear in the drivers’ standings.
However, Verstappen would overturn Leclerc’s 46-point advantage and ultimately storm to the title with a record-breaking 15 victories as Red Bull fixed the RB18’s technical issues and pushed to out-develop Ferrari, who encountered technical trouble of their own, along with strategic mishaps and driver mistakes.
Reflecting on the early-season lows, Verstappen said: “We had a pretty terrible start to the year, so at the time, I thought we would not be able to really fight for the championship. But things really turn [around] very quickly, and the car became even more competitive.
“It’s been a crazy year for us in terms of wins and it’s been really, really enjoyable. It’s something, of course, I would have never imagined at the start of the year.”
Asked at which point in the season he thought the championship was ‘back on’, Verstappen noted the importance of the fourth round at Imola, where he claimed pole position, won the Sprint (after dicing with Leclerc), won the Grand Prix and set the fastest lap.
“The Imola weekend was very good; we had a really strong weekend. Then, of course, the gap [to Leclerc] was slowly reducing – that’s normally always a good sign,” commented the Dutchman.
“At the time we couldn’t afford any more retirements. Of course, the gap [we built became] very big, so we could have had retirements, but at the time, after already two DNFs so early on in the year, we turned it around very quickly.
“Honestly, I don’t really remember what race I thought that it was back on, but I think for us, as a team, Imola was a very important weekend, to have that kind of result.”