Despite extending their partnership for another two seasons both Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff came out attacking Max Verstappen’s record at the recent Italian Grand Prix.
Hamilton spent more of the weekend talking about his rival and justifying his own record rather than focusing on the opportunities both he and there Mercedes team have ahead.
Hamilton dismisses Max team mates
“When I qualified half a second, six-tenths ahead of Valtteri (Bottas), they (the media) didn’t say the same thing as they say today when Max qualifies six-tenths ahead of (Sergio) Perez,” complained Hamilton.
“It’s blown up much more. In my personal opinion, Valtteri and all of my teammates have been stronger than the teammates that Max has had.”
“Jenson (Button), Fernando (Alonso), George (Russell), Valtteri, Nico (Rosberg). I’ve had so many. These guys have all been very, very strong, very consistent and Max has not raced against anyone like that.”
Toto Wolff added to the sour atmosphere when he dismissed Verstappen’s all time record of ten wins in a row as “irrelevant.”
Marko dismisses Mercedes as “not serious opponents”
Amusingly the Mercedes team boss suggested it was an unimportant statistic recorded by Wikipedia which “no one reads.” Of course for the over 3bn readers a year, Wikipedia also records Mercedes all time record of eight constructor titles in a row.
Helmut Marko decided he should rise above the fray when asked for his views on the comments from Wolff and Hamilton.
“This is exactly the difference,” Marlo told Motorsport.com.
“We look at our own team and try to perform as well as possible. We are not involved with Mercedes as long as they are not a serious opponent.”
Button wold fear Verstappen more
“We look at ourselves, we do our best and we don’t create stories for nothing like they do.”
Now Jenson Button has joined the chorus of commentators who believe Hamilton has overstated his case and undervalued Verstappen’s achievements.
“I think Lewis has had some very tough team-mates. But, for me, I would be more fearful going up against Max in the same car,” the 2009 drivers champion told Sky Sports.
Button is just one of three team mates to beat Hamilton in a season alongside Nico Rosberg in 2016 and George Russell last year. Jenson also outscored Lewis over the three years they raced together at McLaren and his huge winning margin in Belgium 2012 may have been the final straw which pushed Hamilton Ito joining Mercedes.
Max ‘the better driver’
Jenson explains why he thinks Max is the better driver. “Adrian Newey gives him a car that says ‘this is the quickest car in the world. If you take away front downforce, it will go slower but be easier to drive”.
Of course Mercedes designed their all new 2022 ground effect W13 car to be the quickest out on track. Yet neither driver cold cope with its peaky performance ad the team failed to get to grips with how the car should be set up from track to track.
Like Vettel before him at Red Bull, Jenson argues Max just gets on with adapting his driving style to get the best out of the machinery he his given
“Max is like ‘right, I have to drive how you made this car and I need to drive it as good as I can’. I think he’s very good at that and I think a lot of drivers struggle to compete with that,” added Button
Perez proves RB19 ‘no easy car’
“That’s why, as a teammate, Max can be so hard to go up against as other drivers can’t quite grasp the set-up.”
Sergio Perez has demonstrated the RB19 is not the easiest car to drive. The usually dependable Mexican driver has made a number of un characteristic errors in qualifying when the car has been on the edge of adhesion.
Checo thought the car had issues in Australia as he beached it in Q1 resulting from a back of the field start. Though Christian Horner later revealed it was driver error ad the braking adjustments required were made by the driver inside the car.
Again in Monaco, Sergio famously binned his RB19 at Saint DeVote in Q1 allowing the entire world of Formula One to see the secrets of the RB19 under the floor air flow management design.
Verstappen adapts driving style
Perez did win two races early this year, though Verstappen later revealed he struggled in the early events to understand how he needed to drive the RB19.
He has clearly mastered the problem set for hum by Adrian Newey and as Red Bull’s technical director explains, Max ability has then blocked even more potential in the car’s development.
“Max wants a car that is very responsive,” Pierre Wache explained
“It is very unique in the sense that he wants a lot of front axle compared to others we have worked with in the past. It is very difficult to find performance in the rear of the car. It is a bit easier to find performance in the front of the car.
Hamilton may hate RB19
“He thus opens the door for us to make the car faster, because he has the capacity and also the preference to have a very sensitive front end.”
Interestingly Lewis Hamilton revealed earlier this season, he felt the driving position of his W14 was too far forward. This leads to a feeling of detachment from the rear of the car, where Hamilton gains a lot of his confidence.
So even were Lewis driving the RB19, it is probable he would hate it as much as his own given the comments from Wache.
The Red Bull director sees similarities between Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen.
Max similar to Vettel
“Both are very talented and they have a clear goal,” he said.
“They differ a bit in the sense that Max is a bit more focused on what makes the car in front of him faster or slower at that moment.
“Seb was more concerned with the complete system of how the car worked. It’s a different approach to feedback,” revealed Wache.
The bad news for Hamilton fans is the return to ground effect F1 cars may mean he is never able to recover the feeling he had when driving his all dominant Mercedes’ cars from 2014-2021.
Hamilton winning titles is over
During the previous F1 ground effect era of the late 1970’s and early 80’s the F1 cars designed by the teams were not ‘easy’ to drive. Despite sweeping all before it in 1978, the Lotus 79 was described as having “all the torsional stiffness of a wet lettuce,” by Peter Wright.
During the first F1 ground effect era, Andretti, Schechter, Jones Piquet and Keke Rosberg were all first time F1 champions as the more established names struggled with the cars.
Ground effect is here to stay in Formula One and even the next big rule change planned for 2026, will see the downforce derived from air above the car restricted in an effort make make following closely a simpler task.
Even were Lewis to sign another Mercedes contract it would be probably his younger and more malleable team mate George Russell who will master the art of driving the current generation of F1 cars as has Max Verstappen.