Abu Dhabi F1: Hamilton fears Mercedes will struggle to close gap on Red Bull in 2024

Seven-time world champion finished a distant ninth as Verstappen signed off a record-breaking season with another win in Abu Dhabi

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton failed to win a single race in 2023. Getty
Powered by automated translation

Lewis Hamilton admitted he is worried at the scale of the task of catching Max Verstappen in 2024 after the Dutchman signed off this year with another easy victory at the 2023 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Verstappen's win at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday was the icing on the cake of the most dominant season by a driver in 73 years of F1 racing.

The young Dutchman re-wrote the record books almost as he went, winning 19 races. More than that though was the manner with which the Red Bull driver dominated at almost every track.

Charles Leclerc was second for Ferrari in Abu Dhabi and Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate George Russell finished third, but neither came close to catching the triple world champion Verstappen. Hamilton, a seven-time winner of Formula One's drivers' title, limped home in ninth place, 45 seconds behind the race winner.

Most commentators say the entire grid has been living in Verstappen’s shadow. But in truth they haven’t even been close enough to do that.

“For Red Bull to win by 18 seconds when they haven’t been developing their car since August is definitely a concern,” admitted Hamilton.

“We learned a lot about the car so it’s down to the team now. They know what they’ve got to do. Whether or not we will get there we will see.”

Asked if Mercedes retaining runner’s-up spot in the constructors' championship was some consolation, Hamilton replied: “Not particularly.”

Mercedes ditched their technical director and abandoned the zero sidepod concept when it became clear early in the season how woefully uncompetitive the car was.

Hamilton has not won a race for over two years and had little good to say about the last eight months on track.

“The fact that I survived it. That’s about it,” he added.

The biggest concern for Mercedes and Ferrari is that Red Bull wrapped up the drivers title six races ago and have a three month head start on designing next year’s car, the RB20.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was frank about their situation: “To catch up is a monumental endeavour but at some stage hopefully they will level off development and we will catch up.

“It’s not only about adding a tenth of downforce, our car has a fundamental problem; it’s unstable and the drivers have no confidence in it and if we can dial that out I think we can make a step forward like other teams have done.”

Red Bull’s lead driver crowned his third successive championship in Abu Dhabi with a record number of wins for a season together with a pole start and fastest lap.

Incredibly, he has won more in this one season than all but 17 of the 899 drivers that have come through F1 have done in their entire careers. His 54th career victory takes him to third in the all time list behind Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher.

He has set a new benchmark for most consecutive wins (10), highest points total (575), biggest winning margin (290) and most podium finishes (21).

Verstappen scored enough points on his own to win the constructors' championship and even broke one of the sport’s oldest records for most dominant seasons ever that has defied even Juan Manuel Fangio, Ayrton Senna and Schumacher in the very best cars, in their pomp.

Jim Clark led 506 of the 708 laps contested over 10 races in 1963 (71%). But Verstappen became the first driver to lead more than 1,000 laps in a single season as he hit 1,003 and 76 per cent of the 1,325 laps raced this year.

Hamilton was not the only one who was concerned at how they could match Red Bull next year; even Verstappen himself said this would be a difficult season to top.

“It’s been incredible. I was a bit emotional on the in-lap, knowing it was the last time I would be sitting in the car that has given me a lot,” he said.

“It’ll be very hard to have another season like this. We know that. But we will try.”

As the final tally was being taken Red Bull’s extraordinary season close to perfection was in contrast to the disarray of their rivals.

Mercedes held onto runners-up spot in the constructors' championship, finishing three points ahead of Ferrari despite failing to win a single race. F1's two biggest teams both had a year to forget while Aston Martin started well before fading. McLaren took a while to get going. Alpine never made a dent.

The oldest man on the grid at 42, Fernando Alonso, ended the season in fourth place for Aston Martin. The Spaniard, a double-world champion during his time at Renault, said he had matched the best season of his career in 2012 at Ferrari.

Updated: November 27, 2023, 9:02 AM