For the past couple of years there has been one driver who has taken over Formula 1, his era of dominance has become synonymous with the sport and does not show signs of slowing down any time soon. Verstappen has proved on multiple occasions that all penalties can be overcome as they appear to be minor bumps in the road for the 2x World Champion. So, who will be the next driver to step up and put an end to Verstappen’s rule?
We have to start with the 7x World Champion, the iconic season that was 2021 put on a year-long spectacle that left everyone guessing as to who would eventually take the title come Abu Dhabi. Just when we thought we would be in for a long-standing battle of the ages between Hamilton and Verstappen, new regulations were introduced in 2022 rendering all of that anticipation mute as Red Bull took a clear step ahead leaving everyone in the dust. Mercedes did manage to nab a win in Brazil 2022 with George Russell, however, the performance of the car has significantly alternated from track to track. Saying this, Hamilton is having somewhat of an understated season as while he does not have the ideal car at the moment, he has hunted down Alonso and is now only 1 point behind the Spanish driver as he closes in on a P3 finish in the Driver Standings.
Ferrari has pinned their future hope in the Monegasque driver and for good reason, he has displayed his raw talent time and time again even if he still has a mistake or two in him. When Leclerc had a car that could challenge for the title at the beginning of 2022, he got off to an impressive start, gapping Verstappen by 46 points within the first few races. We now know that his championship challenge quickly unravelled largely due to Ferrari’s strategic slip-ups however, we also have to admit that Leclerc started to show some cracks as soon as Verstappen started to apply pressure. Assuming Ferrari can get back on track, the mistakes that we’ve seen from Leclerc will have to be ironed out in order to mount a reasonable challenge to Verstappen.
Norris has often been considered an underrated driver, it has been difficult to place him in the F1 driver hierarchy considering that McLaren was never truly in and amongst the top 3 for a sustained period of time. In 2020 they peaked as they pulled themselves into the top 3 but as the years have passed by so have their hopes of climbing closer to the top. Well, that was up until the Austrian Grand Prix this year.
McLaren’s recent upgrades towards the latter half of the summer have entirely transformed the performance of the car, they have gone from arguably the worst car on the grid to now scoring back-to-back podiums. Their recent boost in performance has not only invigorated the team but they have also provided the drivers with a platform to show their potential amongst the likes of the Red Bulls. Norris’ performance have been a stand-out since McLaren has done a 180 and it begs the question, would he be able to challenge Verstappen if he had the car to do so?
Russell’s impressive junior career combined with his stint at Williams more than earned him a spot at a top team and in 2022 he was finally promoted up to Mercedes. As the Silver Arrows lined up to take the fight to Red Bull again in 2022, it quickly became obvious that their ambitious ‘no-side pod’ design was steering them in the complete wrong direction. This crucial fault seriously pinned them back, hindering any chance of competing on the same level as Red Bull in 2022. Russell was still able to achieve his maiden F1 win in Brazil but this was definitely the exception rather than the rule.
The future of Formula 1 is shaping up to be an exciting one *providing the other teams can catch up to Red Bull. However, if all of the drivers above were provided with a championship-winning car it would be difficult to look past anyone other than Hamilton putting in a legitimate challenge to Verstappen and standing a chance of genuinely beating him to a title.