Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 World Champion, has claimed that Lewis Hamilton “always” lacked the consistency of “war machine” Max Verstappen even at his Mercedes F1 peak.
Verstappen claimed his fifth successive victory in Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix, extending the Red Bull team’s winning run in 2023 to nine, and now holds an 80-point lead in the Drivers’ standings over team-mate Sergio Perez.
The Dutchman’s latest triumph means he has now won 32 of the last 53 races stretching back to the start of his maiden-title winning season in 2021, when Hamilton was dethroned by Verstappen in highly controversial circumstances at the infamous Abu Dhabi decider.
Lewis Hamilton has ‘always’ lacked Max Verstappen’s consistent excellence
Hamilton remains without a win since the penultimate round of 2021, having won six titles in seven years with Mercedes from the start of F1’s V6 hybrid era in 2014.
In 2020, Hamilton equalled Michael Schumacher’s long-standing record of seven World Championships and became the first driver in history to surpass 100 pole positions and race wins the following year.
In an assessment of Hamilton’s start to the 2023 season, Villeneuve says the Mercedes driver’s inconsistency from race to race has been a recurring theme throughout his career compared to Verstappen, whom he describes as “a war machine, a robot.”
He told Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport: “He goes very up and down in performance, it depends on the weekends. But he’s always been like that, every season, even when he was winning. He’s never had a perfect year like Verstappen.”
Asked if he is amazed by Verstappen’s consistent level of performance, Villeneuve argued that Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso is the only driver on the grid who can match the reigning World Champion’s intensity.
He said: “No, amazed, no. He always has an extraordinary energy, he never gives up. And he makes a difference.
“Verstappen has always been like that, for years. He’s at his best for the whole season. It’s hallucinating how he does it, maybe only Alonso was comparable.
“If you look at most of the other drivers they all have ups and downs, often with quite a bit of difference between them. Not him.
“I really don’t know where he gets all that energy from. When he is like that, which is practically all the time, he is unbeatable.”
Verstappen and Hamilton resumed their war of the words ahead of Austrian GP weekend, where the latter reacted with incredulity at suggestions that Red Bull have already switched focus to the development of their 2024 car having won every race of the current season.
Hamilton’s suggestion that teams should be prevented by regulation from working on the following year’s car until a prescribed date was mocked by Verstappen, who said: “We weren’t talking about that when he was winning his Championships, right? So I don’t think we should now.”
Hamilton also aired his lingering frustration over the “small” punishment handed to Red Bull after being found to have breached F1’s 2021 cost cap last year, insisting a £6.07million fine and 10 per cent reduction in aerodynamic research “didn’t cost them anything.”