Lewis Hamilton sent tongues wagging when he suggested all of his team-mates have been better than Max Verstappen’s, but how true is that bold claim?
It was a weekend of outlandish quotes in Monza as Toto Wolff put forward the idea that Verstappen’s 10 wins in a row was something only interesting for Wikipedia readers.
Verstappen hit back at more comments made by Wolff regarding the RB19 as “bullsh*t” while Christian Horner backed his driver by saying the Mercedes boss had a “fundamental lack of understanding.”
But the quotes to start the most debate were made by Hamilton in front of the Sky Sports F1 cameras when he said every one of his team-mates had been “stronger” than Verstappen’s.
While both men will have their own opinion, we thought we’d take a look back and see just how true Hamilton’s claims may be.
While it is hard to rank different drivers in different cars and in different eras, the easiest way to do it is to sort them into tiers so to kick things off, we are taking a look at the men Hamilton has shared the garage with.
Lewis Hamilton team-mates
Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren 2008-2009)
When looking at Hamilton’s team-mates, it is interesting to note how experienced they tend to be. In contrast to Verstappen who has often shared the garage with drivers on their way up, Hamilton tends to be battling against those that have been in the sport for a few years.
The exception to that is Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen who moved to McLaren and linked up with Hamilton after just one season in Formula 1. Having just gone the full 12 rounds with Fernando Alonso, it came as little surprise to see Hamilton resoundingly beat Kovalainen on his way to the first of seven world titles.
By the end of the two seasons they spent together, Hamilton had out-qualified his team-mate on 25 occasions and finished ahead of him in 23 races which would have come as a welcome tonic following that 2007 season.
Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes 2017-2021)
It may seem perhaps somewhat harsh to place Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s longest-serving team-mate, in Tier B but in comparison to those that will come later on, it is a fair placing.
After the 2016 season, Mercedes and Hamlton needed a collective cooling of the temperature and the calm Finn was the perfect man for that. He was the ultimate team-mate, often willing to sacrifice his own race if it meant helping Hamlton (“Valtteri, It’s James” lives long in the memory) and it was only later in his Mercedes career when he began to bite back.
But Bottas was more than just Hamilton’s wingman, he was exactly what Mercedes needed. He appeared in Q3 in 103 consecutive weekends and it was this consistency that Mercedes used to build a dynasty.
Hamilton may have hit the highest of highs but Bottas was often on the first step down from him.
George Russell (Mercedes 2022-present)
Having raced for just one and a half seasons together, the jury is still out on Russell’s partnership with Hamilton but the early signs are good.
In 2022, it was Russell that managed to draw the most performance out of the misfiring W13 and while Hamilton has reclaimed superiority this season, the young Brit has not been left in the dust.
He has also accomplished some significant milestones. His first pole and first win have both come since he made the permanent switch over to Mercedes.
Fans hoped Russell would provide some much-needed competition to Hamilton and time will tell if he follows the Bottas route or the Nico Rosberg path.
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes 2013-2016)
Speaking of the German…
The 2007 Alonso battle may have seemed like a war capable of destroying McLaren but it was nothing compared to 2016.
It was a rivalry that had been years in the making. The two had raced together in go-karts and were put in the same Mercedes team when Hamilton moved across in 2013. But for a good while, it seemed as if Rosberg was always going to be in Hamilton’s shadow.
Title wins for the Briton in 2014 and 2015 established the pattern but 2016 changed everything. Rosberg, sensing it was now or never, gave it everything and he and Hamilton clashed to such an extent that Wolff considered firing the pair of them.
In the end, Rosberg achieved what he had dreamed of and the world title was his. Exhausted, he retired not long after his championship was secured in Abu Dhabi.
To this day, the German will proudly state he beat Hamilton in equal machinery and it is a fair claim to make considering the performance levels he had to hit to defeat a driver who looked unstoppable.
Fernando Alonso (McLaren 2007)
2016 was not the only difficult season Hamilton contested. His first was one of the most exciting but also tempestuous in F1 history.
Two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso may have thought he was in for an easy ride when McLaren partnered him with a rookie, but the Spaniard soon realised his mistake.
The two went toe-to-toe throughout the season to such an extent that they ended level on points while Kimi Raikkonen won the title.
In terms of ability, Alonso is perhaps the best to have ever shared the garage with Hamilton and still to this day produces performances that would be impressive for a man half his age.
His status as only a two-time world champion is perhaps not a fair barometer of just how good Alonso has been but in terms of talent, it is hard to argue any of Hamilton’s team-mates surpass the Spaniard.
Jenson Button (McLaren 2010-2012)
If you were to ask the drivers on the grid who is the best on this list, then a fair few of them would say Jenson Button.
Very much the drivers’ driver, praise has come from all corners as to just how good Button was. He arrived at McLaren as a freshly-minted World Champion and gave Hamilton a good run for his money.
Like Hamilton tended to do in that era, he clashed at times with Button – most notably sharing the former Brawn man’s telemetry to the world via Twitter but Hamilton was also Button’s teammate for one of his greatest triumphs – Canada 2011.
It was that race that highlighted the attributes that made Button so good. A master in the wet but crucially a man who better than anyone could judge the conditions to ensure he was on the right tyre at the right moment.
Hamilton may have been the better qualifier but in the race, the battle was much more even and had the McLaren car been able to compete with the Red Bulls at the time, then surely either Button or Hamilton would have added to their title haul during this period.
Max Verstappen team-mates
Pierre Gasly (Red Bull 2019)
Since departing Red Bull, Pierre Gasly has developed into a fine Formula 1 driver able to pull unexpected moments out of the bag but it seemed as if the walls came tumbling down during his tenure next to Verstappen.
He moved up from Toro Rosso in 2019 but would last just 12 races before being demoted back down. In hindsight, his results were not that bad with points scores in all but three races, but Verstappen had set a new bar and Red Bull wanted someone else to match it.
Gasly has always seemed like a driver who wears his heart on his sleeve and that was to his detriment in 2019 as it seemed his confidence, or lack of it, was affecting his driving. A crash with Alex Albon at the German Grand Prix appeared to confirm his fate and he was gone two races later.
Alex Albon (Red Bull 2019-2020)
The man who stepped in to replace Gasly was Albon and just like his predecessor, the Thai-British driver found the Red Bull hot seat just a little too much to bear.
When thinking about Albon’s tenure at Red Bull, it is easy to see how if just a few moments had played out differently, he could have held onto his seat.
A spin from Hamilton in Sao Paulo cost him his first podium and more contact in Austria the following year prevented what looked like a real shot at a win.
With the context that they were being beaten year after year by Mercedes, Red Bull needed everyone to be firing on all cylinders to stand a chance and, when the young Albon struggled to meet that standard, Christian Horner and Helmut Marko swapped potential for experience and in came Sergio Perez.
Sergio Perez (Red Bull 2021-present)
The Perez-Bottas comparisons are easy to make. Both are decidedly second-fiddle to a generational talent but Perez’s form in 2023 has actually shown how good Bottas was.
Like Gasly, Perez seems to be a confidence driver and a run of five non-appearances in Q3 affected his mentality.
Having started the season strongly, Perez’s form has recovered from his mid-season blip including an excellent drive in Monza but while the outside world may clamour for more of a challenge to Verstappen, the Mexican provides everything Red Bull want in a second driver.
In 2021 he repeatedly put his own race in jeopardy in order to help Verstappen, most notably in Abu Dhabi, and while he has demanded more equality in later years, he still brings in enough points for Red Bull to scoop up the Constructors’ Championship.
Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso 2015-2016)
Verstappen’s only Toro Rosso team-mate was Carlos Sainz with both of them joining at the start of the 2015 season.
At the time, the two were pretty evenly matched with Verstappen finishing ahead on 12 occasions to Sainz’s nine and the pair scored 67 points to secure P7 in the 2015 championship.
The following season, Verstappen would race for four grands prix before making the leap up to Red Bull but both drivers have gone on to make it to the top teams.
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull 2016-2018)
Of all the drivers Verstappen has shared the Red Bull garage with, it is Ricciardo that has been the biggest match for his talents.
Ignoring what would become of Ricciardo in his later career, at Red Bull the Australian was a driver who could seemingly do everything. Known for his characteristic late-braking, Ricciardo was fun to watch for his willingness to “send it” on every occasion.
His partnership with Verstappen extended beyond the track with the two being good friends but Ricciardo sensed a power struggle was soon to ensue and left for pastures new at Renault.
It would have been interesting to see what would have become of Ricciardo had he stayed at Red Bull and with a car that suited him but even if his career has tailed off, the performances of the happiest man on the grid in those years cannot be forgotten.
When judging the two sets of team-mates, one thing that is noticeable is the decisions taken behind them.
Both McLaren and Mercedes were happy to pair Hamilton with some of the sport’s finest drivers, having him drive with three World Champions, while Red Bull’s ethos has always been different.
Sebastian Vettel showed they are happy to have a number one driver and when Verstappen picked up the torch, Red Bull wanted a comfortable team-mate for him to drive with.
They have also been a team that likes to promote youth, one that is not shared by many others. Hamilton was the first to graduate through the McLaren driver programme, George Russell is Mercedes’ first whereas Albon, Gasly, Verstappen, Ricciardo and Vettel were all part of Red Bull’s junior team.
So to judge Hamilton’s statement on merit you would have to say that he is correct, his team-mates have been objectively better but he has had two seasons where the team has come close to collapsing due to that rivalry. Meanwhile, you may struggle more to find a team-mate who has a bad word to say about Verstappen.
It is, of course, a point of pride for Hamilton that he beat the likes of Alonso, Rosberg and Button but if you offered him a so-called easier team-mate, no doubt he would gladly accept.