Is Max Verstappen ready to lead F1 once Lewis Hamilton retires?

Max Verstappen did the unthinkable by overtaking Lewis Hamilton twice at the Brazilian Grand Prix to take another stunning win… but is he F1’s future after the six-time champion?

  • Max Verstappen underlined status as an elite driver at the Brazilian Grand Prix
  • Dutchman dominated much of the Interlagos weekend for Red Bull
  • After passing Lewis Hamilton twice he will now hope for a title challenge in 2020
  • But he is not the only young driver looking to lead Formula One’s future
  • READ: All the latest F1 news, features and points tables throughout the season

It is becoming an annual F1 tradition to see Lewis Hamilton win the world championship before the sport meanders into a few meaningless races to see out the season.

The Brit won his fifth title in just six years at the United States with two races remaining, effectively making them dead rubbers.

But there may be signs that the new wave are making a challenge for Hamilton’s throne heading into 2020 already following a thrilling Brazilian Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen underlined his credentials with an excellent win at the Brazilian Grand Prix

The Dutchman (front second right) has already won three grands prix this term and having passed Lewis Hamilton twice to win in Brazil is the hottest property in Formula One

Max Verstappen stunned Lewis Hamilton by passing him twice on the track to take his eighth grand prix victory and arguably his best yet.

So is the Dutchman finally ready to make a permanent challenge for the F1 title? Sportsmail looks at the key factors on whether arguably the sport’s hottest property is now ready to succeed Hamilton.

What was so special about Verstappen’s win in Brazil? He has beaten Hamilton in a straight fight before.

That is true, but how many times has a driver overtaken Hamilton twice on the race track for the lead and with such ease too? The Dutchman’s second pass under fresher tyres around the outside of turn one was perhaps more expected, yet still impressive.

But the race looked close to lost when he came out of the pitlane earlier behind Hamilton, only to immediately catch up and pass him less than a lap later. 

Not many have the confidence to take a fight to Hamilton, but Verstappen relishes every opportunity he gets. 

Verstappen celebrates on the podium at Interlagos with Lewis Hamilton in the background

Granted, but Verstappen tends to win the odd race or two in a season anyway, what makes this one significant? 

Verstappen never enters the race weekend as a favourite to win and while that was the case again at Interlagos he had his most dominant display to date. He was quickest in all three qualifying sessions to take just his second pole position before converting it into a race win.

The point is there are signs Red Bull might have narrowed the gap to Mercedes and could finally be in a position to offer Verstappen a championship challenging worthy car heading into 2020.

Verstappen made a superb pass around the outside of turn one to take the lead from Hamilton

So are Mercedes now on the decline?

We are already in danger of thinking too far ahead. Sunday’s race which saw Mercedes outgunned by Red Bull for pace should not be used as a stick to beat the six-time double champions with.

Team principal Toto Wolff was absent and the team have been looking to experiment their weekend set-ups in the final two races with both championships already sewn up.

Hamilton is entering what are perceived to be the latter years of his grand prix career

Is age catching up with Hamilton?

Again, no obvious signs of that considering he has very recently won a sixth world championship. Motorsport tends to allow competitors to stay close to their best nearly throughout their 30s.

Hamilton is still only 34 and is younger than Michael Schumacher was when he crushed all those around him at 35 to lift his record seventh world title. Closer to home, Damon Hill was 36 when he won his world championship with Williams in 1996, while Nigel Mansell was 39 in 1992.

But it’s hard to see Lewis improving now and with the likes of Verstappen, still just 22, getting better all the time that gap is sure to at least narrow soon enough.

Hamilton applauds Verstappen’s win in Brazil but will still be confident of seeing off the Dutchman 13 years his junior heading into the 2020 season

HEAD TO HEAD: LEWIS VS MAX

Lewis Hamilton

F1 debut: Australia 2007 

Championships: 6

Race starts: 249

Race wins: 83

Podiums: 150

Pole positions: 87

Fastest laps: 46 

Max Verstappen

F1 debut: Australia 2015

Championships: 0

Race starts: 101

Race wins: 8

Podiums: 30

Pole positions: 2

Fastest laps: 7

Is Verstappen mentally ready to challenge Hamilton in a world championship?

Since 2014 many have tried to beat Hamilton over a season and only one has conquered in Nico Rosberg. But he put so much into pipping his Mercedes team-mate to the title in 2016 he retired straight after not wanting to go through another year of the exhausting mental and physical demands needed to defeat the Brit.

With that challenge comes wisdom to defeat a driver who is close to faultless behind the wheel. Verstappen’s wild driving has been fast but he still makes rookie errors.

Talking himself out of a pole position by admitting the offence of not slowing down for yellow flags in Mexico two races ago was one such example. You can’t afford to drop clangers like that taking on Hamilton over a campaign. 

The duo exchange in a conversation about the race following Sunday’s action in Sao Paulo

Still, with 12 years between them, Verstappen will take over anyway at some point

Except Verstappen is not the only youngster making a name for himself in the sport. Charles Leclerc is proving at Ferrari he has the pace to compete with the finest having won two races this term.

He has generally been quicker than four-time champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel but is still a little rough around the edges and prone to the same errors which plagued the very early careers of Verstappen and also Hamilton. He has much promise to be a world champion and his development in the next few years will be keenly observed.

Ferrari’s rising star Charles Leclerc is also looking to lead the sport’s future after Hamilton

Is it just Leclerc ready to battle Verstappen as the next star of the sport?

They are the two obvious candidates right now to succeed Hamilton but it is also worth keeping an eye on George Russell down at Williams.

His pace has been masked by driving the worst car on the grid and having a battle-worn Robert Kubica as a team-mate. It will be interesting to see what he could do with a much better car and with much more pressure from the opposite side of the garage. Fernando Alonso took a similar path to the top after starting with minnows Minardi.

In addition, the young McLaren duo of Carlos Sainz (an old foe of Verstappen) and Lando Norris have also done their reputations no harm this term but the three of them will not be expected to challenge in 2020 given their machinery.

Alex Albon has also impressed in the sister Red Bull, but he has been nowhere near Verstappen’s level in what has otherwise been a good rookie season. 

Great Britain’s George Russell, who won the GP2 title in 2018, is also willing to show what he can do outside of the struggling Williams team

What is Verstappen’s current status in the sport right now?

He is one of the fastest drivers around, certainly quick enough to put him in the same league as Hamilton anyway – and his confidence up against the world champion reflects that.

But he may already be the most in demand driver on the market. He has the longevity that Hamilton can no longer offer as a given but he has a rapidly increasing fan base too.

The Austrian Grand Prix is already invaded by tens and thousands of Dutch fans each year, and it’s that kind of support that has helped bring the return of the Dutch Grand Prix for the first time in 35 years next term. His popularity continues to soar, especially given his outspoken nature.

Verstappen is already a highly attractive driver for any team in F1 with his rapidly increasing fan base coinciding with his constant improvement and impressive results on track

What will he need to improve to become champion?

Get a filter. On track and off it. His comments can still land him in trouble, as seen in Mexico, and his heart can often overrule his head in that respect. For someone like Hamilton, who knows how to psychologically damage an opponent, it is a target to exploit.

Another area on track is his aggressive conduct. It’s helped get him where he is but ‘playing the long game’ is not in his nature and he would much rather risk a pass than wait for a better opening a few laps later. In fairness he has already improved in that area this term by reducing his mistakes. He learned a very painful lesson at last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix when he lost a win after needlessly colliding with a backmarker.

Esteban Ocon got into a tangle with Verstappen after unlapping himself in Brazil in 2018

So will 2020 be the year of Max Verstappen?

Lewis Hamilton will still go into the season as a clear favourite to win a seventh world championship. But if Red Bull and Honda can give Verstappen a race winning car straight away from the season opener in Australia, you can bet he won’t let Hamilton scamper off into the sunset as easy as he has for most of the last six seasons.

Beyond that though who knows? Both Verstappen and Hamilton are out of contract at the end of next season and you can bet the Dutchman will be keen to land a Mercedes seat if Red Bull fail to deliver again.

And you can bet the Silver Arrows, should they wish to remain in F1, would at least be interested in hearing his demands too. 




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