Max Verstappen believes Lewis Hamilton’s dominance of Formula One has been helped by team-mates who have failed to test him.
Despite Hamilton’s mixed form – he heads into Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix with only two victories from his last seven races and finished a distant fourth in practice here – the British driver remains on course to cruise to his sixth world championship.
Hamilton, 34, has been partnered with the likes of Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg, the trio holding four titles between them, during his career.
But following Rosberg’s departure from the sport – days after beating Hamilton to the 2016 title – the mild-mannered Valtteri Bottas was signed as Hamilton’s new team-mate.
Bottas has won five times in that period for Mercedes. In contrast, Hamilton has triumphed on 28 occasions. Barring a complete disaster, a third straight title will follow this year, too. Bottas was also ordered to slow down at the last round in Singapore to protect his team-mate’s position, while at this race here last year, the Finn was ushered out of Hamilton’s way to allow the Briton to win.
“Over the years, Lewis hasn’t had the strongest team-mates,” Verstappen told the PA news agency. “If you have the right car you can beat everyone.
“Lewis is an amazing driver, and one of the best to have raced in Formula One. But he has also had the best car, and when you have the dominant car, the only one you are really fighting is your team-mate.”
Hamilton has said he would welcome Verstappen joining him at Mercedes.
Hamilton’s boss Toto Wolff is a keen admirer of the Dutchman, who turns 22 on Monday.
But the Mercedes team principal, still scarred by Hamilton’s toxic rivalry with Rosberg, has already moved to re-sign Bottas for at least another year.
Verstappen remains under contract with Red Bull until the end of next season, but would he relish going up against Hamilton?
“If it happens, it happens, but it is not something I am dreaming of,” he replied.
Verstappen is tied in the championship with another of the sport’s rising stars, Charles Leclerc, and the pair are the closest non-Mercedes challengers to Hamilton ahead of the final six rounds.
They are 96 points off the championship summit with a possible 156 still remaining.
Like Hamilton, Verstappen’s father, Jos – a journeyman F1 driver who made 106 starts – was instrumental in shaping his early career.
“I didn’t have any surprises coming into Formula One because nobody could be as hard on me as my dad was,” added Verstappen before casting his mind back to a karting race in southern Italy when he was aged 15.
“I should have easily won,” added Verstappen. “On the first lap somebody overtook me, and I wanted to get him back straightaway. I tried to pass him through a very fast corner, he didn’t see me and we crashed.
“My dad put so much effort into that weekend, and I threw it away. He was very angry, and he didn’t talk to me.
“On the way home, within about five miles, he said something and I argued with him. So he pulled over to a fuel station and told me to get out. He just kicked me out of the van, and told me to make my own way home. He drove off.
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) September 27, 2019
“I called my mum, who had also been at the race, to come and collect me. For a week, my dad didn’t speak to me.”
Verstappen was fastest in second practice on Friday, but will serve a five-place grid penalty following changes to his engine.
Thundery showers are forecast for qualifying on Saturday, and after finishing eight tenths off the pace in practice, Hamilton said: “I hope it rains, otherwise it is going to be a tough day.”