Damon Hill picks his new most likely challenger to Red Bull dominance

Sam Cooper
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen leads Sergio Perez at the Miami Grand Prix. Miami, May 2023.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen leads Sergio Perez at the Miami Grand Prix. Miami, May 2023.

Damon Hill believes Mercedes have “leapfrogged” Aston Martin and Ferrari to emerge as the sport’s second strongest team.

At the start of the season, the Silver Arrows looked fourth at best in terms of the F1 pecking order having failed to make ground on Ferrari but also falling behind a surging Aston Martin.

But times have since changed with Mercedes’ new concept, first unveiled at Monaco but showing its potential in Spain, suggesting they are the most likely challenger to Red Bull’s title charge in 2023.

The standings certainly reflect that with the Silver Arrows currently P2 and Hill believes Toto Wolff’s team have “leapfrogged” the threat from both Aston Martin and Ferrari.

“I think quite a bit,” the 1996 World Champion replied when asked on the Sky Sports F1 podcast how much heart Mercedes could take from their double podium finish in Barcelona. “Because they’ve actually shown in the race they’ve leapfrogged the threat from Aston Martin and Ferrari as well.

“They’ve actually shown [that on] a circuit where it really pushes the car’s ability to look after its tyres and have good balance and have good air performance, it’s shown that it’s got the potential there.

“Now, all circuits are different, that’s the great thing about our sport. They’re not all like Barcelona but Barcelona is one of those places where it shows pure performance, in the aero package and ability to get a balance on tyres and so forth.

“Which is why Max [Verstappen] was so dominant but I think there’s encouraging signs there for Mercedes, definitely.”

To catch Red Bull seems an impossible task in 2023 with the Milton Keynes team 135 points clear in the Constructors’ standings and Verstappen 71 clear of anyone besides his own team-mate in the Drivers’.

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Lewis Hamilton meanwhile is fourth and Hill believes the team’s performance in Spain was vindication for the seven-time World Champion.

“They’ve gone down a different road, as they said they would do if it was quicker,” Hill said.

“Although James Allison said you can’t just copy other people, you’ve got to know where you’re going. So it’s maybe this has unlocked more potential, but whether it’s able to unlock as much potential as it needs to beat Red Bull is questionable, because I think they’re stuck with the fundamental chassis that they’ve got underneath.

“But to hear Lewis say ‘I’ve enjoyed driving the car’ that’s a good sign. It’s also vindication for him because he’s been saying: ‘I told you, we should have done something earlier’ and they’ve gone and done what he’s been pleading with them to do and they’ve seen some progress so well done Lewis.”