Johnny Herbert on the two drivers that can give Max Verstappen a hard time

Jamie Woodhouse
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in the paddock at Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in the paddock.

Ex-F1 racer Johnny Herbert foresees a pair of Brits becoming a real challenge for the dominant Max Verstappen once they have the right machinery.

When Verstappen was promoted to the Red Bull line-up back in 2016, the Dutchman embarked on a rebuild job with the Austrian team as they looked to reel Formula 1’s leading force Mercedes back in and reclaim top spot for themselves.

And it would be mission accomplished for Verstappen when he snatched the World Championship from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, that marking the start of the Verstappen era.

The following year Verstappen strolled to a second title as Red Bull also returned to the top of the Constructors’ standings for the first time since 2013, and the early signs in F1 2023 suggest that another Verstappen-Red Bull title double is on the cards.

Red Bull have won all three races so far this season and claimed a trio of poles, two wins and two poles going Verstappen’s way, while Hamilton’s P2 finish most recently in Australia was his and Mercedes’ best result of the F1 2023 campaign so far.

But, while Verstappen seems pretty much untouchable right now without any misfortune, Herbert has named a pair of drivers who he believes can take the fight to the Red Bull star once their machinery is up to the task.

Seven-time World Champion Hamilton was not one of those names mentioned, but Herbert did namedrop Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate George Russell, as well as McLaren racer Lando Norris.

“George has been able to challenge him [Hamilton] and put him under a lot of pressure,” Herbert told the Evening Standard.

“George is going to be tough for Max Verstappen when he gets the right car. I think Lando Norris is the same given the right car.” recommends

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But Max Verstappen is battle tested at the very top

There is no doubt that both Russell and Norris have demonstrated title-winning potential already in Formula 1, but at this stage, neither of them have what Verstappen crucially does, which is experience of sustaining a title challenge and then getting over the line.

So, while Russell and Norris would likely be strong competitors against Verstappen in similar machinery, it remains to be seen whether either driver could operate with the kind of consistency that Verstappen does, the fact that he is barely ever out of form something that is just so tough for rivals to deal with.

That is why it took all of that title-winning experience from Hamilton, who has used that to become a mighty and complete F1 driver, just to make life so difficult for Verstappen back in 2021. Now that Mercedes has dropped the ball slightly, Verstappen is proving to be an overwhelming force.

Hopefully in the coming years we get to see the likes of Russell, Norris and Hamilton too all take the fight to Verstappen, but there would be plenty of attention on Russell and Norris who would still need to prove that they could truly hang in that battle right to the very end.