Formula 1 2024: Will anyone beat Max Verstappen?

DS: I do wonder whether he will see out this season with Mercedes.

ES: You would like to hope he will after the initial shock has calmed down, but we don’t really know. Team boss Toto Wolff said he only knew a couple of days before the announcement. There will be an effect, but I think he will see out the season. What’s interesting is the dynamic in the team, because it’s a great opportunity – the opportunity – for George Russell. He always saw this as a chance to be Hamilton’s team-mate for a few years, Hamilton to then retire and it to be his team. Now Hamilton is going but Russell has this strange transitional year. It’s a chance for him to assert himself. He’s teetering on the edge of either becoming a great grand prix driver or just a very good one, which is a key difference.

All eyes on Sainz

Carlos Sainz on podium with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez

DS: Hamilton’s decision has also opened up a big seat at Mercedes for 2025. Carlos Sainz Jr will be central to what happens next, because he needs a new drive. Again, it’s a strange situation for Ferrari this year, with the big change for 2025 hanging over the team.

ES: It’s particularly odd for a driver like Sainz, who’s very active off track in the way he works with the team. It’s in his interests to perform as well as he possibly can this season. We don’t know where he’s going to go. He may never get a car as competitive as a Ferrari for all we know. He will need to maximise results, but he’s always been the de facto back-up driver to Charles Leclerc. So I don’t think it changes a huge amount for him in terms of 2024. Except his long-term ambition to usurp Leclerc as number one is off the table. You can’t say Ferrari should have kept Sainz over Hamilton, because of who Hamilton is, but they do lose a lot in letting Sainz go. He’s a very good all-round driver.

DS: Leclerc has just committed himself to a long-term future at Ferrari. It was announced before the Hamilton deal. He must have known this was coming. Like Lewis, he has always been close to team principal Fréd Vasseur. Where will his mind be at?

ES: The big question is whether he knew this was on the cards before he signed his new deal. Either way, he needs to see this as an opportunity. Hamilton is coming into Leclerc’s team, and in F1 terms he’s an old man, even if he’s still operating at a high level. Leclerc will be thinking ‘I can beat him here’. Leclerc can also learn from Hamilton. But for now, both Ferrari drivers have to focus on the task in hand, which is taking on Red Bull.

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