Hamilton’s form & Verstappen dominance – F1 Q&A

Formula 1
Graphic showing the F1 drivers for this season

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen leads the F1 drivers’ championship – 13 points ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez after another commanding display in Japan.

As F1 takes a break before the Chinese Grand Prix from 19-21 April, BBC Sport F1 correspondent Andrew Benson answers your questions. Among the topics to feature this week are Lewis Hamilton’s form and Max Verstappen’s dominance.

In Williams & Logan Sargeant’s situation, does the monetary value of gaining points balance changing a driver mid-season and potentially losing sponsors? – Chris

Andrew: Williams are in a world of pain at the moment, and ironically Logan Sergeant’s performance deficit to team-mate Alex Albon is very much not the most pressing part of it.

Sargeant is responsible for only one of the crashes that have put the team in such a difficult situation. Albon caused the first, when he lost control at Turn Six in first practice in Melbourne, and the other appears to have been the consequence of Daniel Ricciardo not looking in his right-hand mirror before edging right between Turns Two and Three on the first lap at Suzuka.

Williams were already in a difficult place by then. They came into the season without a spare chassis, as a result of a combination of circumstances rooted in the team’s attempts to upgrade their operations to a state-of-the-art level.

Team principal James Vowles has been open about the pressure that put on the team, saying they were pushed right to the edge over the winter. Something had to give, the spare chassis was it, and Vowles could not have predicted that the team would have three such heavy crashes, inflicting so much damage, so early in the season.

It has exposed them, it has been very costly – in terms of finance, among other things – and it will inevitably have knock-on effects through the season, in terms of development, for example.

As for Sargeant, yes, his performance raises questions about his longevity in F1, and there are all sorts of considerations there, but it’s not Williams’ priority at the moment.

Should Lance Stroll be replaced in favour of Carlos Sainz? To have Sainz and Alonso in what is a good car would be epic. – Kenny

Andrew: Would Carlos Sainz be an upgrade on Lance Stroll in an Aston Martin next year? Yes. Is there any chance of Stroll being replaced? No.

Aston Martin are owned by Lawrence Stroll. He is a team owner in F1 primarily because he has a dream of making his son world champion.

Sainz could still end up at Aston Martin, as the driver market is fluid and there is no guarantee Alonso will stay, even though the team have offered him a new contract and want him.

But if Sainz did join Aston Martin in 2025 – rather than, for example, Red Bull or Sauber/Audi or Mercedes – it would be as Stroll’s team-mate, not instead of him.

When the drivers are doing the media rounds in the pen, why do their team colleagues record what the driver is saying? – Anonymous

Andrew: The F1 teams’ media departments record driver interviews – whether it be in the TV ‘pen’ or with written media, and whether in group contexts or individual – as a form of protection and control.

It means that if a journalist misquotes or misrepresents a driver, and that causes a problem, they can prove what the driver did actually say.

If Max was not in the Red Bull, a) would he still be leading the championship and b) who else would be capable of winning in his car? – Nigel

Andrew: Most in F1 would agree right now that Verstappen is the best driver on the grid – he is operating at such a high level. Equally, the Red Bull is clearly the best car, and by some margin, as has been underlined by Sergio Perez finishing second in three of the four races so far this season.

Some would argue Verstappen might be leading the championship if he was in a Ferrari – and I’ve heard one person say it. Very few would argue it for any other car.

As for who else would be capable of winning in a Red Bull? Without question, the other top drivers – so, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz and probably most of the rest of the grid, too.

Whether any of them would make it look as consummately easy as Verstappen does is a different question. And I – and many others – suspect very few would.

Are we finally seeing Lewis Hamilton on the decline? George Russell is just dealing with this year’s car so much better. – Matthew

Andrew: There is no question that Lewis Hamilton is having a bit of a sticky start to the season, but it’s way too early to make judgements like this.

There are a whole bunch of possibilities at play here.

One, Hamilton was hoping Mercedes would be more competitive this season, and they aren’t. That can’t be easy to deal with for someone who has had so much success.

Two, he is moving to Ferrari next season. That can’t help but have a psychological impact, even if Hamilton says he is committed to having the best final season with Mercedes he can – and doubtless means it.

Three, Hamilton in his career has not been immune to having slow starts to seasons, even when Mercedes were at their most dominant.

Finally, although Russell has out-qualified Hamilton 3-1 so far this season, the average pace difference between them is vanishingly small – only 0.04secs. So best not to jump to any conclusions.

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