Max Verstappen believes that it is McLaren and not Mercedes who have the strongest driver line-up on the grid in 2023, picking Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris ahead of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
Mercedes currently occupy P2 in the Constructor Championship heading into the final five rounds of the season and while their line-up is arguably the strongest on paper, Hamilton and Russell have had their fair share of on-track squabbles this year, sometimes negatively impacting the team’s weekend.
McLaren, on the other hand, have been largely drama-free with Norris and Piastri delivering the maximum from the MCL60 package with the young duo posing the most consistent threat to Verstappen and Red Bull since the British Grand Prix.
Speaking about the McLaren duo, Verstappen said: “I do think that as a team they are probably the most consistent, compared to the others behind us.
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“I do think they have the best driver line-up out of all of them, so they are operating really well. It’s going to be interesting to the end of the year, but also I think the start of next year to see where everyone is at.”
However, while he has been impressed by the performances of Piastri and Norris this season, Verstappen wasn’t convinced that the Woking-based team had the true pace to challenge him for victory in Qatar last time out.
Piastri managed to convert his sprint shootout P1 award into a sprint race victory on Saturday in Qatar before finishing runner-up to Verstappen in the Grand Prix on the Sunday, crossing the line just six seconds behind the reigning world champion.
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“I do think we had a bit more pace in hand if we really needed it but nevertheless, I don’t want to take anything away from McLaren,” he explained. “They’ve been doing a great job and from us, we see that they are getting closer and closer.
“So we have to try and maintain a bit of a gap. McLaren is making great steps forward throughout the whole year. From our side, we’ll try to improve a little bit this year, but of course mainly for next year.”
McLaren hold genuine hopes of challenging Red Bull for both titles in 2024 if they can continue their current upward trajectory and with such a stable and consistent driver line-up, they are bound to cause their rivals problems.
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