Lewis Hamilton v Max Verstappen: The ‘fascinating’ role reversal at the Australian GP

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen uses DRS to fly past Lewis Hamilton. Australia April 2023

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen opens his DRS to fly past Lewis Hamilton. Australia April 2023

With Max Verstappen playing it safe at the start of the Australian Grand Prix because he knew he had the fastest car, Ted Kravitz has highlighted the “complete flip” from the Lewis Hamilton glory days.

From 2014 to 2020, Hamilton had the fastest car on the Formula 1 grid and raced to six World titles in seven seasons, his team-mate Nico Rosberg beating him to the 2016 crown.

Their dominance saw Mercedes win one Constructors’ title after another, racking up eight in succession as they also won that crown in 2021.

That season, though, saw Max Verstappen take the World title but it was a battle with Hamilton that raged through to the very last lap of the championship.

Since then it’s been all Red Bull, the Milton Keynes squad winning 17 of last season’s 22 races on their way to the double, while this year F1 has yet to see another team climb onto the top step of the podium.

It has rivals predicting Red Bull could win all 23 of this season’s grands prix, and if Verstappen’s straight-line speed on Sunday was anything to go by they could be right.

The Dutchman blitzed past Hamilton with DRS having initially lost the lead in the grand prix to George Russell, with Hamilton also passing him in a move that Verstappen felt was too aggressive.

But the reigning World Champion wasn’t fazed about losing places, saying: “I didn’t want to have any damage on my car, because I knew that we had a quick car. So even losing one or two spots was not the end of the world.”

It’s a complete turnaround from the days when Hamilton could do that in his then superior Mercedes F1 cars.

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“What’s fascinating to me is,” Kravitz told Sky Sports’ podcast, “we now have a complete flip of the Mercedes Lewis Hamilton seasons from 2014 to 2021, when Hamilton has been going for the championship, knowing he has the fastest car and needed to play it safe.

“You had the upstart Verstappen challenging him and wanting to get in there. And now you’ve got Hamilton challenging Verstappen, saying, ‘it’s no cares given’, I’m out there to take all the risks’, putting it back on the defending champion.

“Hamilton knows he’s not going to win the championship this year, not unless something really weird happens, so he can go in there and be aggressive with Verstappen, knowing that he is probably going to have to give way.”

Kravitz feels Formula 1 needs to see more of Mercedes challenging at the front as he reckons that brings out the best in Hamilton.

“It’s why we really want to see Mercedes challenging for the championship with Red Bull,” he added, “because then we can see championship-challenging George Russell against championship-challenging Lewis Hamilton – when they’ve actually got something to go for.

“That’s what I want to see, to get the absolute best out of Lewis.

“I don’t know this for sure, but I imagine, if I was Lewis Hamilton and I wasn’t in for the championship, I’d be like, ‘well, I’m not going for the championship so if George beats me, I don’t really care’. You could reflect on 2022 like that.

“We’ve seen in the past that Lewis takes a step up when he’s challenging for the championship.”

Verstappen won Sunday’s grand prix ahead of Hamilton with Fernando Alonso recording his third successive P3 finish.

The reigning World Champion’s team boss weighed in on Hamilton’s pass, calling it “hard racing”.

“The two Mercedes were fast starting, they were very aggressive on the first lap, Max showing great patience really not to get embroiled,” said the Briton.

“George got a blinder, and he just sent it down into the first corner so Max got out of that, and by getting out of it to allow him through that then compromised him through T2.

“And then Fernando [Alonso] and Lewis get a run on him and then Lewis sends a missile down into T3.”

“It was hard racing between the two of them, and then of course the race was just getting going, and it was quite a fight between the three of them at the front.

“Sounded like George wasn’t happy about being pushed by Lewis, who in turn was being pushed hard by Max. Then they started having a go at each other, then they pitted George, then the red flag came out and then it was just a straight fight between Max and Lewis, and he made very short work of that.

“Then it was a question of controlling the race from that point onwards.”