Motor racing-World champion Verstappen eager for a taste of his new car

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Young Driver Test - Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - December 14, 2021 Red Bull
FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Young Driver Test - Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - December 14, 2021 Red Bull's Max Verstappen during testing REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

(Reuters) - Reigning world champion Max Verstappen is looking forward to getting acquainted with his new-look 2022 Red Bull challenger that the Dutchman hopes will help him defend his Formula One crown.

"A lot is unknown about the car," said the 24-year-old, standing alongside team mate Sergio Perez, at the launch of his new RB18 unveiled virtually on Wednesday.

"That's why I'm also very curious to see how the car is behaving on track.

"I'm really looking forward to that first moment when you drive out of the pit lane and do the first few laps."

Formula One cars this year will feature cleaner swept back aerodynamics aimed at improving wheel-to-wheel racing and bigger 18-inch wheels, as part of a radical regulatory overhaul.

Verstappen, who has driven the car on Red Bull's simulator, said it had less grip than the previous generation of Formula One challengers. 

But he said the view from the cockpit was the biggest change to get used to. 

"For me, actually, the biggest thing is just the view in the cockpit with these big tyres," said Verstappen.

"To hit an apex in some tight corners is a bit more difficult."

Red Bull's new car will sport a slightly tweaked livery this year.

The changes include a prominent display of Oracle branding on the car, with the software giant expanding its partnership with the team to become its title sponsor.

The car will no longer carry Honda stickers, with the Japanese manufacturer having officially pulled out of the sport.

Instead, it now features smaller HRC (Honda Racing Company) branding, to reflect Red Bull's scaled down collaboration with the Japanese company.

It also sports the 'number 1' with Verstappen becoming the first reigning champion to swap out his personal number for the world champion's digit since Sebastian Vettel in 2014.

Team principal Christian Horner described the rule changes as the biggest in 30 years. 

Repeating last year's title success for Verstappen, who fought a down-to-the-wire battle with Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton before clinching the title in controversial circumstances at the Abu Dhabi finale, would be the biggest challenge, he added.

"We've got massive competition out there," said Horner.

"But motivation is sky high, and we're riding on the crest of a wave from last year."

Teams will get their first taste of pre-season running at Barcelona from Feb. 23-25. The season gets underway in Bahrain on March 20.

(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; editing by Christian Radnedge)

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