With the way Max Verstappen is dominating Formula 1, he is more likely to break Michael Schumacher’s World Championship record before Lewis Hamilton does, says Felipe Massa.
Verstappen expected the pack to close up on him after a 2022 campaign where he won a record 15 grands prix out of 22 on his way to a second World title, but at the start of F1 2023 the opposite has happened, with Red Bull way out ahead of the rest.
Verstappen took pole and the victory at the season opener in Bahrain, before recovering from P15 to P2 at the chequered flag in Saudi Arabia, that effort after a driveshaft failure had brought about elimination in Q2.
It seems then that only Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez can stop the Dutchman from becoming a three-time World Champion, with seven-time champ Lewis Hamilton disappointed to have been given a Mercedes W14 which is far adrift of title-contending level again.
As it stands then there is no sign of the Schumacher record being broken imminently, he and Hamilton tied on seven titles.
“And it won’t be any time soon,” Massa told Bild in response to the fact that this record has not yet been surpassed.
“Sure, Lewis Hamilton also has seven World titles, but I don’t think he can win an eighth – at least not with this car this season. The Mercedes is too bad for Lewis to have a realistic chance of playing a major role in the title race. He can drive as well as he wants, his car is too slow.
“Max Verstappen has been World Champion the last two years. I see no reason why he shouldn’t achieve the hat-trick. Much more, Max can also win four, five or six titles in a row.
“Everything has to be right for such a run, that’s what is happening at the moment. Max makes no mistakes, Red Bull works perfectly, the engine is strong. That’s how it was with Michael with Ferrari and Lewis with Mercedes. The conditions are optimal for a Red Bull era.”
And if such a run was to come to pass, Verstappen shutting Hamilton out of that title race for many years ahead if he were to stay in Formula 1 beyond 2023, then suddenly it would be Verstappen hunting that Schumacher record and still at a relatively young age for a Formula 1 driver.
So, asked if Verstappen is already now a bigger threat to that record than Hamilton, Massa replied: “At the moment, yes.
“Max doesn’t make any mistakes, he drives like a robot. He is extremely mature for his age.
“The two titles have made him even better. He’s more relaxed now, not so dogged. He still drives with a crowbar from time to time, but he uses it more purposefully.”
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Of course, Hamilton, if he does extend his stay with Mercedes beyond 2023, will sign that contract with every intention of stopping Verstappen’s run in 2024 and finally achieving that record eighth title which he craves.
And so Massa notes that the landscape could change totally again if Mercedes return to form next season.
“Next year, however, the title race can look very different again if Mercedes finds its old strength,” Massa added.
Heading into Round 3 of F1 2023, the Australian Grand Prix, Hamilton sits P5 in the Drivers’ Championship with 20 points, putting him level with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and two points ahead of his Mercedes team-mate George Russell.