Fernando Alonso. Sebastian Vettel. Max Verstappen.
Those are the three drivers that Lewis Hamilton will be watching out for most as he seeks to defend his championship in Formula One this season.
“We’re the four strongest drivers,” Hamilton told Autosport. “I really hope we are all in the fight next year. It would be friggin’ amazing.”
Though Hamilton won nine out of the 20 grands prix last season, both Vettel and Verstappen took checkered flags as well. So did Hamilton’s own teammate Valtteri Bottas and Verstappen’s wingman Daniel Ricciardo… both notably absent from the champ’s list.
Alonso managed to post the fastest lap at the Hungarian Grand Prix. But saddled as he’s been at McLaren with an unreliable and underperforming Honda engine, he hasn’t won a race since 2013 (or so much as landed on the podium since 2014) when he was still at Ferrari. This year McLaren is switching to Renault power, which could prove as big an asset (or liability) to the team as it has been for Red Bull.
“Fernando – toughest driver there is, so you have to keep that utmost respect for each other, but you’ve really got to play your cards right to utilise the racecraft,” said the defending champ. “His racecraft is mighty, but Max’s racecraft is very impressive,” as well, added Hamilton. “He’s doing wonderful things, but he is going to grow so much over the next 10 years.”
Hamilton, Vettel, and Alonso, will all be returning next season, each with multiple championships under their racing harnesses. The only other former champion on the grid will be Kimi Raikkonen, for whom 2018 may be his last shot at proving his worth… at Ferrari, at least.