Max Verstappen celebrates winning the world championship in Japan with his Red Bull teammates
AFP News

Reigning F1 world champion Max Verstappen's career could have been "damaged" had he been Lewis Hamilton's teammate at Mercedes. Those are the words of Hamilton's current partner, George Russell.

Verstappen clinched the controversial 2021 F1 world championship, his maiden drivers' title, while also denying Hamilton a record-breaking eighth drivers' title. Verstappen claimed a second straight title in 2022, but this time around, he sealed the championship quite comprehensively, winning with four races remaining.

The Red Bull racer scored 254 points more than Hamilton, who had finished sixth in the 2022 drivers' title race. Russell, in his first season as Hamilton's teammate, outclassed the legendary driver and finished above him in the drivers' table. The young Brit ended the 2022 F1 season fourth with 275 points, 35 more than his seven-time champion teammate.

Russell's brutal admission about Verstappen

Russell, meanwhile, believes that Verstappen's career could have been worse now had he been paired with Hamilton at Mercedes.

"If Max might have gone to a team like Mercedes and had to face a peaking Lewis Hamilton there that could have damaged his career. So you have to look at it from two sides. Max was a much better driver after gaining three or four years of experience compared to when he had 18 months of experience.

"If you have to compete against someone who is at his very best and dominates in the car they are used to, then Max might not be in this position today," Russell told Square Mile.

Verstappen, however, was never close to securing a deal with Mercedes. Since making his F1 debut as a 17-year-old at Toro Rosso, it was always known that he would end up getting a contract with their sister team, the more established Red Bull Racing.

The move to Red Bull finally happened in the middle of the 2016 campaign, with Verstappen replacing the out-of-form Daniil Kvyat. In his maiden appearance for Red Bull, Verstappen won the Spanish Grand Prix, becoming the youngest driver ever to win a Formula One Grand Prix at the age of 18 years and 228 days, beating the record previously held by former Red Bull legend Sebastian Vettel.

Since then, neither Verstappen nor Red Bull has looked back as they have won two drivers' titles and a Constructors' championship over the last two seasons. However, Kvyat, who was demoted down to the less competitive Toro Rosso, has opened up on the switch, admitting that it felt like "a stab in the back."

"I felt really betrayed at that moment. It was a stab in the back and that's life, you get stabbed in the back sometimes you know, it's normal. Now it's the past. I have another good career in racing so part of me of course is very thankful to Red Bull. The other part of me is still very unhappy with it," the Russian driver said.

Alonso won't challenge Verstappen: Aston Martin chief

In the ongoing F1 season, Aston Martin's sudden rise has been a surprise, with former champion Fernando Alonso finishing on the podium in all three races so far. In the drivers' title race, Alonso, with 45 points, is only behind the two Red Bull drivers: Verstappen (69 points) and Sergio Perez (54 points).

Alonso's Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll has also been scoring regularly despite missing pre-season testing after breaking both his wrists in a cycling accident. With 20 points, Stroll is currently placed sixth in the drivers' championship table. As a result, Aston Martin are second in the Constructors' Championship this season, behind Red Bull.

In what would be a relief for Verstappen and Red Bull, Aston Martin chief Mike Krack has admitted that Alonso is unlikely to challenge the defending champion for the title this season.

"There is a difference between confidence and arrogance. We are substantially behind Red Bull. Even if they stood still, the gap would be too big to catch up with them in one season. We have to be realistic. We have to look up, but we also have to look at third and fourth place. Things can change very quickly in the championship. We are not far ahead of Mercedes. As a team you can quickly drop down the leaderboard," Krack said in an interview.