Lewis Hamilton claimed he’s one of the only drivers in Formula 1 who can beat Max Verstappen in a straight fight for the world championship, after finishing runner-up and two seconds behind the Dutchman in the 2023 United States Grand Prix.
Always strong in Austin, it’s the closest Hamilton‘s got to beating Verstappen to a grand prix victory all season, with the Red Bull managing a brake issue and haemorrhaging time in the closing stages.
That was after Verstappen appeared fortunate to escape a penalty for forcing Charles Leclerc off the track early on, before going on to take his 50th career win in F1.
“I’m praying every day that we will close the gap and we will hit the ground running,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1. “I want to be fighting Max, I believe I’m one of the only drivers that can do so.”
Hamilton‘s comments came after he also told the rest of the F1 grid not to get ‘too soft’ after a brutal 2023 Qatar GP.
However, it’s hard to disagree with Hamilton‘s comments regarding challengers to Verstappen. Charles Leclerc‘s 2022 title challenge faded last year before the RB18 became the dominant car of the season, while Lando Norris is currently the best hope for Verstappen‘s equal from his own generation.
Norris reportedly holds an ‘open invitation’ to join Red Bull, according to Verstappen‘s former teammate Alex Albon, but is so far sticking with McLaren who have won just one race since 2013.
Hamilton: Mercedes must improve, and not just the car
Hamilton added Mercedes have plenty of ground to make up before they can challenge Red Bull and Verstappen, even if they can produce an equal car.
And his comments proved prophetic, with a crucial delay pitting Hamilton for his first stop proved fatal to his chances of challenging Verstappen for race victory.
Red Bull ran the perfect strategy to beat Norris and Hamilton, despite Verstappen starting sixth on the grid.
“But we’ve got to have the package, not only the car but we’ve got to be operating better in our pitstops,” Hamilton said. “There’s so many areas we’ve got to be levelling up to match the champions.”