Lewis Hamilton has been ‘punched’ after a bitter final lap defeat to Max Verstappen, claims David Coulthard… who says the Brit can still challenge for this year’s championship – but must also watch out for Mercedes teammate George Russell
- Lewis Hamilton went without a win for the first time in his career in 2022
- However, he is entering the new season with fresh faith that he can win a record eighth title
- David Coulthard is confident he can return to the top, but now he has new challengers
Lewis Hamilton continues to have his best ability to compete for world titles ahead of Sunday’s F1 opening in Bahrain despite his worst season, underlines David Coulthard.
The seven-time world champion endured a nightmare campaign last year, going an entire season without a Grand Prix win or even a pole position for the first time in his career.
Hamilton entered 2022 looking to win a record eighth title after a bitter loss to Verstappen who overtook the Brit on the last lap of the season finale at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after a highly controversial safety car period to win the world championship.
Coulthard, however, believes Mercedes’ problems with the pace of their 2022 car left Hamilton out of breath and unable to show his best form, meaning he was also beaten by new teammate George Russell.
“I don’t think we saw the best of Lewis Hamilton last season,” Coulthard told Sportsmail.
Lewis Hamilton experienced his worst Formula 1 season in 2022 without a win
The Brit’s poor year followed Max Verstappen’s devastating final lap defeat
He expected to be fighting at the front after a hard break in Abu Dhabi  and would expect at least another title challenge against Max Verstappen.
“I think Mercedes’ lack of pace, which left him without a credible challenge in the championship, left him punch drunk and full credit to George Russell, who was able to take full advantage and beat him in his first season with the team.
Coulthard, who won 13 races with Williams and McLaren during his career, believes Hamilton will return to his best form this season and can lead the challenge to world champion Verstappen, who easily defended his title last season.
But it also states that Hamilton could find one of his biggest rivals coming from inside Mercedes in Russell, who scored the team’s only pole position and won in 2022.
“It’s incredibly likely that we’ll see a rejuvenated Hamilton this year because I don’t think he’s lost any of his skills as a racing driver,” added Coulthard.
“But his big concern will be the other side of the garage. Russell was excellent after coming from Williams and took the team’s only pole position in Hungary and a win in Brazil.
Beating Hamilton would be an unexpected bonus for him, and it would only give him tremendous confidence ahead of a second season with the team.
However, David Coulthard believes Hamilton still has the best ability to fight for titles
Hamilton can expect strong competition from Verstappen (center) and George Russell (right)
Meanwhile, the big surprise in pre-season testing was Aston Martin, which posted encouraging times at Sakhir to become a potential threat to the established three Red Bull teams, Mercedes and Ferrari.
Fernando Alonso’s pace during testing was reflected in practice for the first race of the season, when he topped the lap times on Friday.
Despite being 41 years old, Alonso still displays an astonishingly fast pace and Coulthard, who will be a C4 pundit throughout the season, believes the two-time world champion’s relentless dedication to F1 is his secret to maintaining his still-excellent pace.
“Alonso impresses and clearly shows how a Grand Prix driver can be fast even in his 40s,” said the Scot.
“It may seem strange that he can still be fast and someone like Michael Schumacher had problems at a similar age, but things are not exactly the same there.
Fernando Alonso raised his eyebrows in the paddock after being fastest in Friday’s practice
“Alonso has had less time away from the sport than Michael, but another reason he has stayed close to his best is his commitment to the sport. Many drivers may begin to explore business opportunities outside of the sport as they near the end of their careers, but he has largely ignored them and focused on staying in shape.
“I think he benefits greatly from focusing on motor racing, as you can see from his track performances. He could still be a force at Aston Martin this season.
Coulthard features Channel 4 highlights from the Bahrain GP on Sunday at 9pm