It’s now impossible to claim that Hamilton is better than Verstappen

Max Verstappen has won two of the opening four rounds of the 2022 season as he looks to defend his F1 crown.

It is no secret that Sir Lewis Hamilton is currently enduring an extremely difficult time of it at Mercedes, and his struggles have reignited the discussion as to whether Max Verstappen is the better racing driver.

Hamilton went toe-to-toe with the Dutchman for the world championship last season as the pair took 18 wins between them, and their fierce rivalry sparked aggressive disputes between Mercedes and Red Bull on the track, in the paddock, and between their respective fanbases.

The seven-time champion would ultimately lose out to the 24-year-old in the final round of the season in Abu Dhabi, and intrigue surrounded the dynamic between the pair heading into the 2022 season.

READ: ‘Max finds it harder’: Marko sends Verstappen warning to Ferrari

But with new technical regulations have come an abundance of troublesome times for Mercedes, who are dealing with “porpoising” as the bottom of the car hits the ground due to the reintroduction of ground effect aerodynamics in Formula 1.

Hamilton has been joined at Mercedes this year by George Russell, and the younger Briton appears to have been able to utilise his acclimatisation to running further down in the order with Williams to good effect.

Russell sits 21 points ahead of Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship having comprehensively out-performed him in both Saudi Arabia and Imola, while the 37-year-old’s gratifying performance in Australia was met with misfortune as Russell made use of a well-time Safety Car to end the race on the podium ahead of his compatriot.

The 2-2 qualifying battle between the Mercedes pair follows the 37-year-old having out-qualified a multitude of team-mates such as Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg and Valtteri Bottas an astonishing 187 times in 289 races.

1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve suggested that Hamilton is “not coping at all” with the culture shock of driving a car that isn’t a front-runner, but the 103-time race winner brushed this off as “amusing.”

Article continues below

Mika Hakkinen, not necessarily known for public criticism, indicated that Hamilton was likely “whining” internally about the difficult situation the Mercedes team find themselves in, and it is clear for now that he has some adapting to do if he is to wrangle control over the 2022 car.

Verstappen, conversely, went from the mid pack to the front in 2016 when he claimed victory for Red Bull on his debut with the team at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix having joined partway through the season from Toro Rosso, and he has claimed another 21 since then during the Milton Keynes side’s recovery having started the Turbo Hybrid era dreadfully.

His influential contribution helped lead the team to the exquisitely performing Red Bull car that took the Dutchman to the title last season, and unlike Hamilton, the Dutchman has been out-performing his team-mate this year.

Verstappen leads the qualifying battle 3-1 over Sergio Perez this season, and his dominant performance at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix epitomised a driver at the very top of his game right now.

READ: Russell reveals extreme effect of Mercedes porpoising

Despite suggestions from adviser Dr Helmut Marko that this year’s car does not suit his aggression, the 24-year-old continues to put in consistent performances having also out-qualified Perez 20-2 last year.

It cannot be forgotten that the Mexican has forced his team-mate to improve even further this year too.

Perez sealed his maiden pole position in Saudi Arabia after 218 previous race entries, and was on hand to scoop up consolidatory points in Australia after Verstappen’s reliability failure, having also been in the same position in Bahrain, only for a failure of his own to deprive Red Bull of any points that weekend.

Dr Marko was full of praise after the 32-year-old’s P2 in Melbourne, observing that he “has improved a lot this year in qualifying and in the race he is also there.”

These performances come after a year of learning “how to drive” a front-running car, and the fact that Verstappen has still proven the superior driver at the team speaks volumes.

The changing of the guard at the top should not come as a concern of some form of personal attack on Hamilton.

David Coulthard said of Michael Schumacher in the Netflix documentary on the seven-time champion that “you just get old” as the German lost a few tenths of pace towards the back end of his career.

That is not to say that Hamilton has hit a sharp decline, but it is only natural that, as the Briton approaches his forties, the young Verstappen will begin to eclipse him.

The cycle of life will mean that exactly the same thing will happen to the Dutchman one day, but for now at least, Verstappen wears the crown in Formula 1.

This is an opinion article; the views expressed within it do not necessarily reflect those of