Max Verstappen and Sir Lewis Hamilton, in just one season, gave Formula 1 fans around the world one of the greatest rivalries in recent memory.
Their title battle last season was one of controversy, madness and unbelievable excitement, and it showcased the different level the pair are on.
Between them, they won 18 of the 22 races last season, with their respective team-mates, Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez, taking one a piece.
In so many races last year, we saw Verstappen and Hamilton escape off into the distance as they battled for the win.
They held absolute supremacy over a grid of the 20 very best drivers in the world, but only one of them can be a world champion.
Just a few more can possess the talent and ability of the two title protagonists from last season; Perez and Bottas are phenomenal talents, but their time at Red Bull and Mercedes coincided with the presence of two all-time greats.
This year has been a different story in that Mercedes are no longer in the title fight due to their struggles under the new technical regulations.
The W13 has been a victim of “porpoising” and bouncing, caused initially by a turbulent chassis that forces the floor to violently hit the track surface.
Once that was resolved, Mercedes thought they could lower the car and run it at an optimal height, but design flaws on the floor itself have led to similar problems.
The 2022 Mercedes was born with problems, so they decided, on occasion, to run some experiments on one of the cars.
Hamilton is more experienced than his new team-mate George Russell, and he has a more intimate knowledge of how to develop a Mercedes car, so he was selected as the guinea pig.
After the Bahrain Grand Prix, which the seven-time champion finished on the podium, Russell finished ahead of his team-mate in seven consecutive races – something only Nico Rosberg had done before him while partnering Hamilton.
But the German side decided to stop running tests, and start giving Hamilton a more ideal set-up, which showed in his results.
Five consecutive podium finishes followed for the Briton, and he managed his and the team’s best finish of the season of second place in France and Hungary.
The start of the year, which saw the 37-year-old finish outside the points for only the second time in nine years in Imola, is now in the rear-view mirror of Hamilton who, with a generally improving car, is displaying his undeniable skill.
The 103-time race winner has partnered the likes of Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Rosberg in his career, and he has out-qualified all of them.
This perhaps gets under the skin of the former, who was not impressed with the challenge being presented to him by the upstart during their season at McLaren in 2007.
Verstappen, at just 17 years of age, came into the pinnacle of motorsport with Toro Rosso in 2015 and, though he was out-qualified by Carlos Sainz over the course of the season, he finished ahead in the standings following some scintillating race performances.
Stunning overtakes in Spa and Sao Paulo that year put the Dutchman on the map, and he quickly found his way to Red Bull in 2016.
Daniil Kvyat was replaced four rounds into that year after some lairy moments with Sebastian Vettel, and it was Verstappen who would replace the Russian to drive alongside Daniel Ricciardo.
The Australian too found himself out-performed by the now 24-year-old, who became the youngest-ever race winner on his Red Bull debut at the Spanish Grand Prix six years ago.
He has not looked back since then, adding another 27 victories to his impressive tally, and he has been brushing aside team-mates since 2018.
Ricciardo recognised that more emphasis was being placed behind his team-mate’s title aspirations, so he moved onto Renault, and then McLaren, with whom things have not worked out.
Pierre Gasly was at the Austrian side for just half a season before being replaced by Alex Albon, who himself was dropped at the end of 2020 despite two podium finishes that year.
Given the pace of the car, there is a case to say that Gasly and Albon did not perform as horrendously as it might have looked on paper; Verstappen is simply unstoppable.
He has already developed a history of dragging a slightly less capable car to race wins, and this is something his team-mates have not been able to cope with.
Recently, we have seen the true racing prowess of both of last season’s title fighters shine through.
Verstappen has won nine of the opening 14 rounds of this season, and his last two have come from 10th or lower.
Last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix saw the reigning champion win the race from 14th on the grid after taking an engine penalty, and he beat Perez by 18 seconds.
He now leads the championship by 93 points from his team-mate, and his win in Budapest from 10th added to that disparity between the Red Bull drivers.
Hamilton himself finished second in Hungary having started seventh on the grid, with the two world champions proving why they are the very best in the business right now.
And who can forget Hamilton’s recovery from 20th to fifth in just 24 laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix sprint race last season, before he beat Verstappen to the victory on the Sunday.
Both of these exquisite talents would be both a blessing and a curse for any team principal to try and handle.
You would have a driver pairing that, as long as the car is competitive enough, would win you the Constructors’ Championship, but sorting out their differences on track would leave you tearing your hair out.
At 41 years of age, Alonso himself is still a remarkable talent, so Hamilton likely has a few years left if he wants them, and he had shown this year, in arguably the toughest of his career, that he can still compete with the best.
Would Verstappen dominate Hamilton? No. Could he beat him? Sure, and Hamilton could beat the youngster too, but only one thing is certain – it would take everything they have.