Lewis Hamilton praised the “faultless” Max Verstappen as he accepted the third-placed trophy at Friday night’s FIA gala, but warned the Red Bull driver that Mercedes “can close that gap”.
Red Bull and Verstappen were the dominant force throughout the 2023 Formula 1 championship as the team cruised to the Constructors’ Championship with 21 wins in a 22-Grand Prix season.
19 of those went to Verstappen with the Dutchman wrapping up a third successive Drivers’ Championship title ahead of Sergio Perez in what was Red Bull’s first-ever 1-2 in the standings.
Lewis Hamilton: I truly do believe that we can close that gap
As for Hamilton, the Briton may have finished third in the standings but he went win-less for the second season year in a row with his 234 points a whopping 341 short of Verstappen’s mark.
Such was the Red Bull driver’s points tally it was enough to beat Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship single-handedly.
Hamilton, accepting his third-placed trophy at Friday night’s gala, let the Dutchman and Red Bull know Mercedes won’t take their latest defeat lying down.
“For everyone, it has been a very, very long season and very much looking forward to the winter break,” he said at the gala.
“We’re working very, very hard on making sure we come back strong next year, I must say a big congratulations to Red Bull, Verstappen and Checo, they’ve done an incredible job this year.
“Max Verstappen was faultless. Max and all of his team really raised the bar and we have a lot of work to close that gap, but I truly do believe that we can close that gap.”
As for Verstappen, he admits the magnitude of his third championship, which he wrapped up in Qatar at the Sprint race, only really hit him at the season finale in Abu Dhabi as he stood on the podium having clinched win number 19.
“I think it did hit me a little bit more once I was standing on the podium in Abu Dhabi, you realise the season is over, you don’t get to drive this car anymore, unfortunately,” he said.
“It’s been incredible. It’s been great fun as well to work with everyone. We all want to win, we want to do the best we can, but when you’re travelling around so much all over the world you want to also do it with a great group of people, and we definitely have that at Red Bull.”
He added: “I’m extremely proud of what we have achieved, but I hope also that it doesn’t stop here!”