As Lewis Hamilton moves inexorably towards Michael Schumacher’s seven world titles and 91 grand prix victories, where is the next-gen challenge coming from? Is Ferrari the biggest threat to Hamilton and Mercedes? Or is it Red Bull-Honda?
In Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, both teams have outstanding young talents. You’d have to favour Verstappen simply because of the intra-team situation. There’s no doubting where Red Bull’s effort will go, no disrespect to Alex Albon.
Verstappen, at 22, is blindingly quick. Five years into his Formula 1 career, it’s now three-and-a-half seasons since he won his first GP. He’s ready. And on the evidence of the season’s final grands prix, so too is Honda.
At Ferrari, there’s a problem. Leclerc is quicker than Sebastian Vettel. But there’s not much in it. Going to the final round, Leclerc had seven pole positions to Vettel’s two, but his average qualifying pace advantage was just 0.07sec. At Mercedes, Hamilton has qualified 0.18sec quicker than Valtteri Bottas over the season. At Red Bull, Verstappen had 0.57sec in hand over the demoted Pierre Gasly and 0.4sec advantage since Albon arrived.
F1 history is littered with examples of two number ones in the same team winning most battles but losing the war. In 1973, Ronnie Peterson and Emerson Fittipaldi won seven races for Lotus, shared four to three, but let in Tyrrell’s Jackie Stewart to win the championship with five.