Max Verstappen
Lewis Hamilton (L) praised the Red Bull Racing team, particularly World Champion Max Verstappen (R) for a dominant 2023 season AFP / CHANDAN KHANNA

Seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton had to settle for third place in the championship in 2023, but he managed to put disappointment aside while heaping praise upon the Red Bull Racing team and its drivers.

The Mercedes star had a lot of nice words to say about the Austrian outfit, particularly his once bitter rival, Max Verstappen, who received his third consecutive Drivers' World Championship title at the FIA Prize Giving gala in Baku, Azerbaijan on Friday.

It may be remembered that Verstappen dominated the season and finished the 2023 campaign with 575 points to his name, a whopping 290 points ahead of his teammate, Sergio Perez, who scored 285 points. Hamilton came in third place with 234 points, just 28 points ahead of both Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) and Charles Leclerc (Scuderia Ferrari).

Needless to say, no one came close to Verstappen this season, with the Dutchman winning 19 of the 22 races in the calendar. Two of the remaining races were won by Perez, while the only non-Red Bull to win a Grand Prix all year was Ferrari's Carlos Sainz.

Verstappen and his team were the undisputed stars of the FIA Prize Giving Gala, and Hamilton humbly praised his rival. The pair fought a bitter battle for the title in 2021, with both of them exchanging a number of swipes at each other both on and off the track. They collided several times, and the season was concluded in controversial fashion after a safety car fiasco in the final laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Despite their often tense relationship, Hamilton had only nice words to say about Verstappen and Red Bull after he was given the opportunity to speak onstage at the gala. He congratulated everyone for completing a very long season before stating: "I must say a big congratulations to Red Bull, Verstappen and Checo - they've done an incredible job this year. Max Verstappen was faultless. Max and all of his team really raised the bar and we have a lot of work to close that gap, but I truly do believe that we can close that gap."

As expected, Hamilton also praised his own team: "Thank you also to my team, because they never gave up this year. We started off with a sister basically of previous years' car which was not good and not fun to drive for most of the year. But no-one gave up, everyone continued to show up every day and that was what was most inspiring and so I hope that we come back next year."

Indeed, the 2022 campaign was a disaster for Mercedes, who found themselves unable to realistically compete for victories, let alone the championships. It was the first winless year for Hamilton since his debut campaign, and he was visibly frustrated on numerous occasions. His teammate George Russell managed to secure one win, but they could not improve on that in 2023.

They were unable to secure a single victory this year, but they were at least able to challenge for a few podium finishes. They were still several seconds off the pace of the Red Bulls throughout most of the season, meaning a complete overhaul is in the cards for 2024.

The Briton admitted that they are looking forward to the winter break, but most members of the team will likely have only a short break before they will be back on the drawing board to figure out a way to beat Red Bull next season.

On top of the issues on the technical side, Mercedes have also been embroiled in a controversy in recent weeks after team principal Toto Wolff and his wife, Susie Wolff, who is the managing director of the F1 Academy, were accused of gaining an unfair advantage due to the information that they are able to share with each other across their roles.