Former Formula 1 driver Johnny Herbert believes Lewis Hamilton’s best days are behind him with a new generation led by Max Verstappen taking over.
Hamilton stands as the most statistically successful driver in history, having equalled Michael Schumacher’s record of seven World Championships in 2020 before becoming the first man to surpass 100 grand prix victories the following year.
However, Hamilton suffered the first winless season of his career in 2022 and has been outqualified by team-mate George Russell at four of the opening five races of the new season.
Red Bull driver Verstappen beat Hamilton to the 2021 title in highly controversial circumstances before adding a second crown last season.
He currently leads team-mate Sergio Perez by 14 points in the 2023 standings, having won 28 of the last 49 races stretching back to the start of his maiden title-winning season.
Herbert, who made 160 F1 starts between 1989 and 2000, suspects that Hamilton’s best days are behind him – but has warned that a return to race-winning contention for Mercedes could make him a dangerous proposition once again.
He told ICE36: “Lewis may not be at his peak, that peak has gone by, but it is still a bloody high ability that he still possesses.
“As we all know, for instance, if you play golf and you hit a great shot, that makes you feel, ‘I want to crack on’.
“That is the thing that can suddenly reignite that fire in Lewis which I think is slightly turned down at the moment, because it is not quite working out in the way that he wanted.”
Herbert insisted that he is hugely respectful of Hamilton’s achievements, with the rise of Verstappen and Russell – as well as McLaren driver Lando Norris – no different to what happened when such greats as Niki Lauda and Ayrton Senna arrived on the grid.
“He is absolutely in the top-three British drivers ever,” he said.
“He is up against a new generation. There always has been in most decades.
“I remember Ayrton turning up and changing everything in ’84, Niki did likewise, Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark.
“Then in the modern era it’s Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher.
“They are the special ones who come through every decade.
“And I think we are seeing that now with Max, Lando and George.”
Appearing on F1’s Beyond The Grid podcast in March 2020, former McLaren and Ferrari test driver Pedro de la Rosa outlined his belief, from the experience of his own racing career, that younger athletes have an inherent advantage over those from a previous generation.
“I’m of the opinion that all the new generations in any sport are better than the old ones,” he said.
“I know this sounds quite crude or surprising but it’s true because all the new sportsmen start from an earlier age – and I think this is critical.
“They are always confronted at an early age against better drivers than the average I was facing at that time.
“New generations will always be stronger and more complete, but on the other hand they will also end their careers earlier.
“I don’t think the new generations that come in at 18 years old into Formula 1 will be 40 and still racing in Formula 1.
“I think that when they are 30-35, they will finish.
“They will be burnt out because that’s how it it is.”