AlphaTauri team manager Graham Watson feels Max Verstappen “single-handedly saved” Formula 1, claiming Lewis Hamilton is a “brand” with a range of interests and not a racing “nerd” like Verstappen.
Verstappen arrived on the Formula 1 scene already a record-breaker, joining the grid in 2015 aged 17 with Red Bull’s junior team, then known as Toro Rosso. At that point, Hamilton was set to embark on his and Mercedes’ second title-winning campaign together.
Come 2021, Verstappen, now a Red Bull driver, joined the title fight for the first time and emerged victorious over Hamilton come the end of one of F1’s greatest seasons, that marking the start of the Verstappen era with the Dutchman having since bulldozed his way to three-time World Champion status.
Lewis Hamilton a ‘brand’ versus ‘Formula 1 driver’ Max Verstappen
F1 is now very much spearheaded by Verstappen, his ‘Orange Army’ fanbase following him around Europe and packing out the grandstands, with his home race, the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, resurrected as a celebration of the flying Dutchman.
And Watson argues that Verstappen has “single-handedly saved” Formula 1 by bringing a new audience to the sport, claiming that differs from Hamilton’s influence who is a “brand” and not solely-recognised for his F1 endeavours like Verstappen.
“Max is the best thing that has happened to Formula 1,” Watson declared to Formule1.nl.
“When Max went from us to Red Bull, I compared it to Michael Schumacher’s move to Ferrari. He made Formula 1 immensely popular at the time. Just look at the old images of Hockenheim and Spa: the stands were full with Schumacher flags.
“I think Max single-handedly saved Formula 1. Because he brings the same intensity and generates interest. People come en masse to Austria, Spa – actually everywhere – for him. I didn’t even see that back in Schumacher’s time.
“My wife is 60 years old, but a big fan of Max. Because of his style, because of the excitement he creates on track. Max brings a whole new audience to Formula 1.
“Lewis Hamilton is very talented, but is involved in so many things that people wonder: is he a Formula 1 driver or not? He’s associated with so many other things. Lewis Hamilton is a brand, Max Verstappen is a Formula 1 driver. And that won’t change.
“I’m not saying that what Hamilton is doing is wrong, but he’s not the nerd like Max. When guys like that are not in the car, they’re in the simulator or in a kart. They’re always trying to improve themselves.”
Verstappen will look to re-write history once more in F1 2024 and join former Red Bull star Sebastian Vettel as a four-time World Champion.