Max Verstappen could face a four-driver challenge next season from Mercedes and Ferrari, but it’s Lewis Hamilton who David Coulthard believes could lead that charge against the Red Bull driver.
Two years ago Verstappen and Hamilton put on a title fight for the ages with the protagonists crossing the line first and second in 14 of 22 races, which included a run of six 1-2 results at the very end of the season.
That kept the championship, one in which the two traded paint and were even involved in two big crashes, alive through to the very last lap of the season.
Could Max Verstappen be dethroned as early as next season?
Alas, 2022 did not deliver a repeat performance with Red Bull hitting their stride with the new ground-effect aerodynamic cars while Mercedes and their porpoising W13 faltered.
It’s been more of the same this season, only with less bouncing for Mercedes and more winning for Red Bull, who could wrap up the Constructors’ Championship this Sunday in Singapore, such is their advantage.
It’s an advantage that some fear could last another two years until new regulations come into play in 2026.
Coulthard, though, is leaning more toward cautious optimism that it will be closer next season and he expects Hamilton to lead that charge against Verstappen.
“Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, Charles and Carlos and George of course,” he told the official F1 website when asked who could be the 25-year-old’s biggest challenger moving forward. “Ferrari if they get on top of the issues.
“All of these teams are great teams. Lewis has shown his pedigree. Seven-time World Champion, could have been nine times, could’ve been 10.
“The reality is he’s got that, he’s signed for another two years, he has got the hunger, he has been exceptional all the way from karting to where he is now, and now we will see what Mercedes give him as a car.”
Last month Mercedes confirmed Hamilton had re-signed for a further two seasons with Russell staying on as his teammate.
Coulthard’s not the only former F1 driver who believes Mercedes can get it right next season.
“I think so,” 2009 World Champion Jenson Button told On Track GP earlier this year. “Next year there’s every possibility Mercedes will be quick.
“They’re a great team. They’re a little bit behind Red Bull at the moment, so it’s tricky as the regulations do not really change, but if anyone can challenge them, it’s definitely Mercedes.”
And according to Damon Hill, Mercedes have been “beavering away back at the factory in Brackley furiously and they probably have a title contender in their back pocket.”
He added to Sky Sports News: “They just can’t use it this year because it won’t fit on this particular car, so it won’t be until next year when we’ll see that.”