Max Verstappen discusses whether Lewis Hamilton will be a ‘dangerous threat’ in F1 2023
If Mercedes provide Lewis Hamilton with a car capable of fighting for the Drivers’ Championship, Max Verstappen expects his 2021 title rival will be in the thick of the title fight.
But, he says, that applies for any driver who has a car capable of fighting at the sharp end of the grid.
Hamilton was Verstappen’s nemesis throughout the 2021 season as the two traded P1s and paint as they raced wheel-to-wheel for the World title, Verstappen winning that with his last-lap-of-the-season pass in Abu Dhabi.
Their rivalry took a hiatus last year as Mercedes struggled with a porpoising car as Formula 1 heralded the arrival of the new ground effect aerodynamic era.
That, though, didn’t stop the two from clashing when they had the opportunity, Verstappen penalised for their contact on the opening lap of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
This season many are predicting the battle will re-ignite as it seems unfathomable that Mercedes won’t recover from last year’s troubles, once again setting Verstappen and Hamilton up on a collision course.
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The Dutchman was asked by Sky Sports’ Craig Slater if he believed Hamilton is still a ‘dangerous threat’, and was quick with his reply.
“Of course he is,” he said, “he’s one of the greatest drivers ever in the sport.
“If he has the car to do it, he can fight for the title again.
“It’s the same for George, for Charles, it’s the same for Lando. If you give them a car that’s capable of winning a championship, they can.”
Max Verstappen: Title challenge comes with a ‘different pressure’
But while Verstappen and Hamilton are now used to fighting for World titles, nine between them, for George Russell and Lando Norris it would be a new experience while Charles Leclerc had a small taste of it last season but has yet to mount a serious challenge.
Verstappen has warned them doing so brings with it a different sort of pressure.
“It’s also about when you have the car then the pressure comes,” he continued. “You can’t afford mistakes, or at least you can’t afford big mistakes.
“That’s a little bit of a different pressure you have but I’m confident that once these guys get into a role like that, it’s all possible. They all have the talent to do so.”
‘Time will tell if Ferrari can challenge’
Last season Leclerc was Verstappen’s nearest rival, the Ferrari driver winning two of the opening three races to race out to a 34-point lead.
As the season progressed, though, Ferrari lost the plot while Verstappen and Red Bull came to the fore.
Winning 15 grands prix, the Dutchman won the title with four races to spare while Ferrari were left to dissect how a season that began so strongly fell apart.
Verstappen reckons it is “difficult to say” whether they’ll be in the fight this season.
“I don’t have any understanding of how they are improving the car,” he explained. “I guess time will tell.
“I mean, they’re an amazing team. They have a lot of amazing people working there as well.
“Sure, there has been a change, but at the end of the day, I think they had already defined the direction they wanted to work in and they wanted to improve the car and the engine department.”
“So I still expect them to continue that path and they will definitely be strong opponents.”