Verstappen ‘feigning polite view’ on new Mercedes ahead of 2023 season

Max Verstappen makes subtle dig at Lewis Hamilton in April

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Former Red Bull driver Mark Webber believes Max Verstappen’s claim he expects Lewis Hamilton and George Russell to be more competitive in the upcoming season is just the two-time F1 world champion being “very polite”.

Verstappen comfortably won his second world title last season, finishing 146 points ahead of second-placed Charles Leclerc. Russell and Hamilton, meanwhile, finished fourth and sixth respectively as Mercedes slumped to third in the Constructors’ Championship.

However, speaking earlier this month Verstappen revealed he expects the title race to be much closer this year and that Mercedes will “for sure” be back in contention. When asked about last season’s battle with Ferrari and Charles Leclerc, Verstappen said: “If you look at how close the cars were, it’s a bit surprising to have such a big gap anyway.

“There weren’t many weekends in which we were really dominant. But I mean, at the end, I’m pretty happy with how everything turned out, especially after the season I had last year [2021].

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“It’s not always good to have that kind of fight every single year. And I do think next year, everything will be closer anyway.” He then added of Mercedes: “Yes, for sure. They will be in it.”

However, Webber believes Verstappen was simply being “very polite” and that Red Bull remain the “most dangerous team” on the grid. He told Motorsport.com: “I think that is especially very polite of Max.

“I still think Red Bull will again be the most dangerous team at the start of the season. They gave a kind of clinic to the others. Once Max got comfortable in the car there was no stopping the rest at all.

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“Red Bull as a team quickly got to grips with the reliability problems they had at the beginning of last season. Consistency was the biggest problem for opponents. Red Bull was actually strong on every [tyre] compound at the end, strong on high-downforce circuits and strong on low-downforce circuits.

“They had no real weakness left and Max as an individual I don’t think has any weakness at all, so they did give the competition some headaches. For Max, it was at times Formula 1 Plus in the past year. Spa was the highlight for me, how he sliced through the field there.”

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