Two-time Formula One world champion Emerson Fittipaldi has suggested that Ferrari could be primed to emerge as the dark horses to pip Mercedes and Red Bull to glory at the end of the upcoming season. All eyes are currently on Lewis Hamilton, though, as he weighs up the idea of walking away from the grid in the wake of his crushing defeat at last year’s hugely controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Brit was cruelly denied a record-breaking eighth Drivers’ Championship title on the final lap after eventual champion Max Verstappen was allowed to close up to him during a late safety car period.
The Dutchman was given a clear run at his Mercedes rival when race director Michael Masi asked only the five lapped cars between the two leaders to un-lap themselves before the restart.
Verstappen, who was on much fresher tyres than Hamilton, went on to force his way into the lead during the one-lap shootout that followed to take the chequered flag and clinch the end-of-season honours.
The result sparked plenty of post-race controversy due to the widely-held belief that all lapped cars should have been required to un-lap themselves in such a scenario.
It seems as though Mercedes could still lose Hamilton before the start of the new campaign as he mulls over a shock retirement from the sport after losing trust in the FIA.
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However, Fittipaldi has suggested that the Silver Arrows and Red Bull should be looking nervously over their shoulders at Ferrari regardless of whether or not Hamilton decides to return.
“They can be faster at the start,” Fittipaldi told the Dutch edition of Motorsport.com when quizzed on the historic Italian outfit.
“A team like Ferrari has been working on the new season for much longer. You don’t know, there can be many surprises.
“The bigger teams always have an advantage. But other teams can be closer this year, I think it will be more balanced.
“In any case, I’m happy with the new rules. I mainly hope the cars can follow each other a lot better, hopefully that will give us more fun races to watch.”
Mercedes and Red Bull have been widely tipped to battle it out for Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship glory once again this year after dominating the rest of the field throughout the previous campaign.
However, it has been suggested that both teams could suffer as a result of curbing their focus on their 2022 development in order to prioritise last year’s title fight.
Former Red Bull simulator driver Alex Albon recently admitted that Verstappen’s battle with Hamilton was their main focus but insisted that a dramatic fall from grace will not be on the cards this season.
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“As the championship got closer and closer, we stopped focusing on next year’s car and started focusing more on this year’s car,” explained Albon earlier this month.
“Especially in the last two races in Jeddah and Abu Dhabi, we tried a little harder than usual, and yes, it worked well.
“When you have the car at the start of a season to win the championship, to win, you have to put everything on one card but it’s not like we dropped everything to focus on the past year.
“We’ve been smart and Red Bull has always been good at adapting to the regulations in the past with Adrian [Newey] and the aerodynamicists.
“They’ve always been smart in that regard, so I don’t think they will be in a bad position [this year].”