Former Formula 1 driver Mario Andretti is unconvinced by the notion that new world champion Max Verstappen did not feel any pressure during his title fight in 2021.
The Dutchman beat Sir Lewis Hamilton to the championship last season, with the fight going right down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.
Throughout the year, Verstappen maintained that he was not feeling any weight on his shoulders while going up against a seven-time world champion.
“I like what I’m doing, so that takes the pressure off,” he said ahead of last year’s Mexican Grand Prix.
“It’s not the first time I’ve been in a championship fight.
“Yes, the first time in F1 but not in my life so that doesn’t really change because you need to win, and that’s what I’ve been doing in the past, so I need to strive to do the same here,” he affirmed.
Nico Rosberg also defeated Hamilton to the title in Abu Dhabi in 2016, and the German too maintained a stiff upper lip throughout that season before admitting after his success at the Yas Marina Circuit that the pressure had begun to affect him.
“The last couple of races, especially the last one, that’s not the real Nico,” he affirmed after the race five years ago.
“The pressure slows you down. It’s difficult so I’m happy to have come through in the way that I did.”
Andretti claimed his world title in 1978, so knows all about the mental strain of an F1 title fight.
The American affirms that winning the title removes a huge burden off a racing driver.
“You can say all you want, but once you accomplish your ultimate goal, a lot of pressure’s off your shoulders,” he said in an interview with RacingNews365.com.
“There’s no better situation than being more relaxed. Sometimes, when you’re in that frame of mind, you just do things even better.”
The 81-year-old added that he reckons that now he has one championship, the Red Bull driver will be hungry to add to his tally.
“He’s in a very good place,” he said.
“He fought so hard [for the title] and now he probably relishes to try to repeat it. That’s what drives you, that’s what keeps you motivated. But at least he has that one under his belt, which is huge.”
Andretti uses his own experience to testify that once a driver has achieved their first world title, there is less pressure on them.
“I can only express what my thoughts were on a situation like that, when you accomplish something that’s your ultimate goal. When you finally do it, oh my goodness, from there on things are all better!” he revealed.
Verstappen already had a sizeable fanbase before his title success – the avid celebrations from his devoted fans when he won in Zandvoort last year tell you everything you need to know about his popularity in the Netherlands!
The former Lotus driver says that the Dutchman will now have gained an even bigger after his championship success.
“When you achieve something like that, usually the fans have a different appreciation,” he said.
“You could see how strong Verstappen’s fan base was [last season], by showing these orange plumes [of smoke] and all that. You had grandstands full of them!
“You have justified their confidence in you, and you know that they have a special appreciation now that you’ve done it, so it’s all good.
“All of those things are positive, and that’s what you work for, that’s what you sweat for.”
Andretti maintains that the other drivers on the grid will now respect the 24-year-old more.
“It never comes easy. That’s why, when you finally do it, the right people actually appreciate it and they show it to you. Things will never be the same, they’ll be better.
“There’s also respect. There’s a certain degree of respect that you gain, even from your own competitors, whether they show it or not.”
Verstappen claimed 10 wins and18 podiums en route to his success last season, and will once again partner Sergio Perez at Red Bull for the 2022 season, which will get underway on 20 March.