Ex-Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone claimed Lewis Hamilton “failed” in a rough 2023, but Mercedes would not have gone winless with Max Verstappen at the wheel.
The likes of Mercedes and Ferrari had gone into the 2023 campaign looking to bounce back from a difficult start to Formula 1’s ground effect era, Verstappen and Red Bull having strolled to the titles in 2022. As it turned out though, that was merely the start.
Driver and team would take the dominance to a higher, record-breaking level for 2023, Verstappen winning 19 out of 22 grands prix, Red Bull taking 21 overall as back-to-back title doubles were confirmed.
Max Verstappen could win in the Mercedes
That sole defeat inflicted on Red Bull was courtesy of Ferrari, meaning Mercedes went winless across a season for the first time since 2011, while Hamilton is now without a win since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
But, as great as Red Bull were in 2023, Ecclestone believes it is also true that Hamilton “failed” to deliver.
“Hamilton failed a bit,” Ecclestone is widely quoted as having told BILD.
Hamilton’s team-mate Russell did not escape Ecclestone’s wrath either, after a season which Russell himself has called one of the worst in his career for results, scoring just two podiums and finishing 59 points behind Hamilton.
Overall, with Mercedes’ Constructors’ Championship runner-up tally standing at 409 points to Red Bull’s 860, Ecclestone feels Mercedes dropped the ball.
“Russell wasn’t as good as he thought he was either,” Ecclestone continued. “Still, they shouldn’t have lost so dramatically.”
Considering the sheer dominance which the Red Bull RB19 had over the competition, the debate over how much of it was Verstappen or the RB19 dominating naturally bubbled up.
Verstappen winning 19 grands prix with that F1 weapon, compared to team-mate Sergio Perez’s two, spoke volumes though and if Verstappen had been in the Mercedes W14, Ferrari SF-23 or McLaren MCL60 instead, Ecclestone still thinks Verstappen would have been winning races.
“They have patiently endured Mercedes dominance, replacing each weak link one by one, developing the best team, the best design, the best car and the best driver,” Ecclestone said of Red Bull.
“Christian Horner [team principal] has done an excellent job. Max is currently the benchmark in every field.
“You could also put him in a McLaren, and probably a Ferrari or a Mercedes, and he would still win.”
Verstappen goes into F1 2024 as clear favourite to stretch his run to four World Championship successes in a row, which would match Sebastian Vettel’s achievement with Red Bull between 2010-13.