Red Bull star Max Verstappen loses key team member ahead of 2021 Lewis Hamilton fight

F1: Verstappen puts in hard graft ahead of new season

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Max Verstappen will be forced to do battle with Lewis Hamilton for the F1 Drivers’ Championship title this year without the help of chief mechanic Lee Stevenson, who has stepped down from his role ahead of the upcoming campaign. Verstappen is preparing to begin his sixth season on the grid, with Red Bull hoping that they can take a big stride towards ousting Mercedes and Hamilton from the top of the pile before wholesale regulation changes come into effect next year.

Verstappen may be quietly confident of a title challenge this season, with a number of pre-season problems at Mercedes hinting at a closely-fought battle in the months to come.

The Silver Arrows have been ironing out lingering issues related to their power unit in recent weeks, while team principal Toto Wolff claimed last month that Red Bull may benefit from an early advantage as a result of enforced changes to the floor design.

However, the German outfit’s chances of sealing an eighth consecutive championship double appear to have been handed a welcome boost by Stevenson’s departure.

The mechanic was a huge part of Verstappen’s campaign last season, most notably leading the rapid repair job after the Dutchman crashed his car into a wall before the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest.

Stevenson announced his departure on Instagram on Sunday evening as he prepares to take up a new role with Red Bull’s show car team.

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“10 wins, three poles, 42 podiums,” he wrote, reminiscing about his time working alongside Verstappen.

“Never did I dream of going on such an incredible journey with the best driver on the grid. It’s a shame we didn’t get the championship ticked off but he definitely will!

“My journey as the No 1 on the car has come to an end as I take on a new role in the team, an opportunity I couldn’t miss!

“I wish the guys all the luck in the world to achieving more wins than ever and hope they come back with the crown!”

Stevenson helped Red Bull achieve the current world record for the quickest pit stop in F1 history in 2019, helping Verstappen to fly in and out of the box inside 1.82 seconds at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

The Dutchman will face a significant challenge to overcome Hamilton this year after struggling to lay a glove on the seven-time world champion last season.

A 133-point gap separated the pair in 2020, with Verstappen winning just two races all season while Hamilton took the chequered flag at 11 of the campaign’s 17 Grands Prix.

However, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner revealed in December that he is confident of a closer fight this time around.

He claimed that Verstappen’s victory in Abu Dhabi in the final race of the season could provide the whole team with some much-needed winning momentum, which could be crucial in helping the Dutchman gain a quick-fire lead in this season’s battle.

“You always want to try and win the last race because it just sets up the winter,” he said after the chequered flag at the Yas Marina Circuit.

“You take that momentum into the winter and I think for all the guys and girls back home at Milton Keynes that have put so much into this year.

“It’s not [just] what you see at the circuit, it’s what goes on behind the scenes and particularly in the kind of year that we have had, with all the restrictions, the lockdown, the different calendar.

“It’s testimony to that hard work that we’ve got ourselves into this position.”

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