Lewis Hamilton still the man to beat Verstappen, despite what critics say

The seven-time Formula 1 world champion might not have won a race since 2021, but he is still at the peak of his powers

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He might not have won a race since the climax of the controversial 2021 Formula 1 season, but Lewis Hamilton‘s form in the 2023 season is a reminder for those that needed it that he is still at the peak of his powers behind the wheel.

In almost all other sports, a winless drought spanning more than 18 months would represent disaster, but F1’s inherent nature means that in itself often counts for very little.

There are, of course, still ways to judge a driver. Performance against a teammate is the usual barometer, while anyone that is seen to be ‘outperforming the car’ is the recipient of high praise.

By those two metrics, Hamilton is excelling. It’s not his fault Mercedes took a disastrous path at the inception of the new regulations in 2022 and then foolishly doubled down for 2023.

However, in that time he has displayed more than just his driving ability. He may have scored less points than George Russell in 2022, but knowing the car wasn’t going to take him to an eighth world title he so craves and feels he so deserves, Hamilton did most of the heavy lifting in search of answers to the W13’s gremlins.

Since then, he has refocused his efforts on track, and although that hasn’t yielded a win to go with the 103 before, his performances, especially this year, have been no less worthy.

Lewis Hamilton on the podium at the Spanish GP | Mercedes

Leading the Merc resurgence

Hamilton bemoaned the direction taken by Mercedes during the first race weekend of the 2023 F1 season in Bahrain and called for those responsible to take accountability, such is his standing within the team.

“I’ve driven so many cars since 2007, so I know what a car needs and what it doesn’t,” Hamilton said on the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast.

“Last year, I already told the team about the problems with the concept. Then also admit: ‘OK, we didn’t listen to you, the car is not where it should be and we have work to do’.”

That seemed to spark crisis talks among senior figures that ultimately led to the change of approach finally debuted at the Monaco GP.

But despite his issues with the W14, which places the driver further forward than most other cars on the grid, Hamilton has still outperformed the much-fancied Russell and picked up just about every point available to him.

2023 Spanish Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Only in Miami and Azerbaijan has he finished outside the top five, while he has also racked up two podium finishes in the first seven races, all while having arguably the fourth-best car at times.

He sits fourth in the driver standings, behind only Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso, while he and Russell dragged Mercedes above Aston Martin into second following a strong showing in Spain.

At this stage of his career, he is more than just a driver to the Brackley-based outfit, and is set to put pen to paper on a new deal to help take the team back to where they feel they belong.

There is no driver more equipped to lead that charge.

Still the only man capable of beating Verstappen

Pundits and fans of F1 have notoriously short memories. That Hamilton was, by most accounts, robbed of the 2021 title has been quickly forgotten by people keen for an easy soundbite.

It’s always the way in sport. With enormous success comes enormous scrutiny and a litany of critics, and Hamilton has been on the receiving end of this phenomenon more than most.

There have been calls for him to retire, or at least think about it, claims that he’s lost his raw speed or his motivation to continue, while his most impassioned haters will always try to diminish his record-setting achievements.

All the while Verstappen is lauded as one of the greatest of all time. It’s bizarre.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen shake hands after the 2022 United States Grand Prix
Hamilton and Verstappen after the 2022 United States Grand Prix 2022 – LAT Images

The Dutchman is an exceptional driver, of that there is no doubt, but he has little competition in this current era of regulations.

For all Charles Leclerc is rapid over a single lap, last year proved he is still far too prone to race-day errors to become a world champion. The same can be said for his teammate Carlos Sainz, and he lacks the Monegasque’s inherent pace for good measure, while Ferrari have gone backwards in 2023.

Perez is exactly what Red Bull need him to be. Good enough to ensure they win the constructors’ championship without putting their prized asset under any serious pressure for the drivers’ title.

Verstappen wrapped that up with four races to spare last year, and will likely do similar this season.

Russell and Alonso have been the other standout performers of 2023 but could they really live with the consistency of Verstappen over an entire season at this stage of their respective careers? I’m not sure.

He may not be the bold, risk-taker of his McLaren days, but the reality is that Hamilton remains the driver most capable of going toe-to-toe with Verstappen on equal footing and coming out on top.

It happened less than two years ago and there is no reason to think it couldn’t happen again. The only question mark is whether he will get the chance to prove it.

Andrew Wright
Andrew Wrighthttps://total-motorsport.com
Sports Journalist for Total-Motorsport.com
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