Toto Wolff ramps up Max Verstappen mind games with ‘easier’ jibe

Verstappen has won three of the opening five races of the season to cut Charles Leclerc’s lead at the top of the stadings

It has been made “easier” for Max Verstappen to challenge for the Formula One title this season and defend his championship, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has claimed.

The Dutchman trails Charles Leclerc in the standings after he twice failed to finish over the first three races of the season, but he has racked up three wins overall to cut the championship lead.

Verstappen was involved with an intense title fight with Lewis Hamilton last season but it is Ferrari who have been his closer challengers this campaign after Mercedes’ performance struggles.

Mercedes have failed to adjust to F1’s new regulations, unlike Red Bull and Ferrari, and Wolff has said ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend that the car Verstappen has been given offers him a significant advantage as he looks to defend his title.

"Last year, Max drove a worse car and won the title. Now he has the fastest car, everything is easier for him, the pendulum is swinging in his favour,” Wolff told Autosport.

Verstappen held off the late challenge of Leclerc to win the Miami Grand Prix two weeks ago and Red Bull have looked on ominous form over the past two races and since sorting out their reliability issues.

Mercedes, meanwhile, improved to see George Russell and Hamilton finish fifth and sixth, but the gap between them and Red Bull and Ferrari has been clear to see.

Wolff, however, is not ruling out a title fight this season, even if seven-time champion Hamilton has already conceded his title hopes.

“We’ve only got the fifth race behind us, so you can’t write anything off,” Wolff said. “It can swing in our direction again. And in terms of points, we’re not far behind.”

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