MAX VERSTAPPEN has endured a difficult start to his Formula One world drivers’ championship defence.

Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko believes Max Verstappen’s ‘aggressive’ driving style does not suit the new cars in the 2022 Formula One season. The team have struggled in the opening weeks of the campaign, with 2021 world champion Verstappen retiring twice.

Max verstappen

The Dutchman has endured a difficult start to 2022. Issues with his car forced him to retire in both the Bahrain and Australian Grands Prix, although a win at the Saudi Arabian GP was sandwiched between.

Verstappen is now sixth in the world championship standings. Instead, Ferrari are threatening to run away with the world title as Mercedes are also struggling for performance.

And Red Bull chief Marko believes the team’s issues could be partially blamed on Verstappen. The 24-year-old has an aggressive driving style that the 78-year-old thinks is not suited to the new cars.

Asked why Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc is faster than team-mate Carlos Sainz, Marko told F1 Insider: “Oddly enough, we have the opposite effect. Sergio Perez is much closer to Max than was the case in 2021. The simplest explanation for this is: the new cars with less downforce suit some drivers better and others less.

“Sainz is an intelligent, very hard worker. He will work off his backlog in the future. In Australia he was closer, but then he was unlucky with the red flag and later with the steering wheel. Perez is very happy with the setup of the car.

“Max finds it even harder. He hasn’t found the right balance yet and therefore doesn’t have the fullest confidence in the car. His aggressive driving style doesn’t quite go together with the new cars.”

Max verstappen

Verstappen controversially won his first title in 2021, overtaking Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the final race in Abu Dhabi. However, the driver has insisted that he has been given little reason to believe that successive championships are possible.

“These kinds of things, if you want to fight for the title, cannot happen. We need to be faster than them, which we’re not. And have zero problems with the car, which we also don’t have.

“So it’s going to be a big task. At the moment, there is no reason to believe in it.”

Verstappen will hope for a better result at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix this weekend. It was the first race he won last season on his way to the world title.

Rafael Nadal overcame fellow Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz in just over three hours to reach the final at Indian Wells, where he will face Taylor Fritz.

Rafael Nadal

Spain’s Nadal beat the talented 18-year-old 6-4 4-6 6-3 in a match hampered by strong winds.

It is fourth seed Nadal’s 20th consecutive victory as he continues his remarkable unbeaten start to the year.

Home favourite Fritz secured his place in Sunday’s final with a 7-5 6-4 win over Russian Andrey Rublev.

Nadal won the Australian Open in January as well as lifting the title in the warm-up event at Melbourne, then the Mexican Open a month later.

He was tested all the way by Alcaraz – who is seen as one of the most exciting prospects in tennis – in a three hour 13 minute encounter.

However, heavy winds disrupted the second set, with the chair umpire asking spectators to hold on to their possessions after items blew on to court.

Despite the wind, Alcaraz broke Nadal in a 20 minute game to eventually force a decider.

The 21-time Grand Slam champion then found the decisive break before serving the match out to reach his fourth final of the season.

“In the second the conditions became crazy,” Nadal said.

“It’s not fun playing in wind like this, it is sometimes a challenge and I can enjoy that.”

Earlier, world number 20 Fritz ended Rublev’s 13-match winning streak to reach the final.

“It sounds like a dream come true. I can’t even believe it’s real,” world number 20 Fritz told Amazon Prime.

“[It was] definitely the best I’ve played this week. I was finally putting it together, being way more aggressive than I’ve been all week.”

Fritz, 24, also revealed he suffered an ankle injury in the final stages of the match.

“I pinched the back of my right ankle,” he said. “I think it was on one of those points where I was trying to grind out balls on my serve.

“It didn’t feel too bad but the first point when I took a really explosive push-off step to return the serve, it hurt a lot.

“Hopefully, it’s just a little tweak and we’ll get it sorted out. I was looking for the trainer.”

Fritz will be aiming to become the first American men’s winner at Indian Wells since Andre Agassi in 2001.