Mercedes chief Toto Wolff believes everything is now easier for Max Verstappen in 2022 after battling Lewis Hamilton for the title in 2021. The Dutch racer pipped the seven-time world champion on the final lap at the season finale in Abu Dhabi to claim his maiden Formula 1 title last season.

2022 saw F1 usher in a new era, and Red Bull Racing and Mercedes were again expected to be battling upfront for race wins. While the Austrian team has progressed, the Silver Arrows have taken a step back after going in the wrong direction in terms of the development of their new car.

Mercedes are currently only the third fastest team on the grid, and are well off the pace compared to their 2021 rivals. Red Bull is fighting for race wins with the resurgent Ferrari team, who currently lead both the Constructors' and Drivers' championships.

Red Bull is making rapid progress and Verstappen has claimed consecutive wins in the last two races. Verstappen and his teammate Sergio Perez are likely to have been at the front of the standings if not for their reliability issues, which has offset their incredible pace in the first five races of the campaign.

Max Verstappen
Red Bull's Max Verstappen is looking to build on his win in Saudi Arabia ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP

Wolff feels the pendulum is swinging in Verstappen's favour in 2022 after he beat Hamilton in a car that was not as good as the Mercedes in 2021. The Dutch racer is the favourite to win the title again with Red Bull making better progress than Ferrari in the development race that is expected to define this season.

"Last year, Max drove a worse car and won the title," Wolff said, as quoted on GP Fans. "Now he has the fastest car, everything is easier for him, the pendulum is swinging in his favour."

The Mercedes team principal, however, is not willing to write off his team's chances claiming that they could turn things around. The reigning Constructors' champions are 62 points behind Ferrari, while Hamilton is 68 points behind leader Charles Leclerc in the Drivers' championship.

"No, not at all," the Austrian added. "We're only [after] our fifth race, so you can't write anything off, it can swing back in our direction. And in terms of points, we are not yet dramatically behind."

The sixth race of the 2022 F1 season gets underway at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona this weekend. The first free practice session gets underway on Friday with all teams expected to bring a raft of upgrades in the hope of getting closer to current pace-setters Red Bull.

Toto Wolff
Toto Wolff is hoping for a clean title fight next weekend ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/POOL via AFP