Max Verstappen believes Formula 1 title rival Lewis Hamilton will find things “very difficult” next season if George Russell joins Mercedes.
Mercedes protege Russell is widely expected to replace Valtteri Bottas alongside seven-time world champion Hamilton next season with a decision said to have been made but not communicated until Bottas finalises his alternative for 2022.
Russell has been a qualifying star at the lowly Williams team in his three seasons in F1 and also excelled on a one-off for Mercedes last year when he deputised for an unwell Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix.
On his Mercedes debut, in a car that he did not fit into comfortably, Russell narrowly missed out on pole to Bottas but beat him into Turn 1, outclassed him in the race, and should have won were it not for a botched Mercedes pitstop and then a puncture.
Verstappen has previously backed Russell – who qualified a shock second on the grid in the wet in Belgium last weekend – to get the seat and said ahead of this weekend’s Dutch Grand Prix that he would pose a bigger challenge than Bottas, who has been Hamilton’s de facto number two since joining in 2017.
“If he joins for sure he will make it very difficult for Lewis,” Verstappen said.
“I mean, he jumped into the car in Bahrain and basically was already from lap one making it very difficult for Valtteri so you can only imagine the more experience you gain in that car and the more you get accustomed within the team naturally you’re going to be becoming faster.
“When you do your first race you are guided by the team about set-up direction because you just don’t know what to do really initially with the car.
“I remember my first race at Red Bull, the thing I said was ‘we’ll just follow a bit what Daniel [Ricciardo] is doing because I have no clue about what this car needs to go quick’ because even though of course F1 cars look pretty similar, the way of setting them up can be very different.
“So, I’m very confident [in Russell]. You could see the performance he did at Spa was was really good.
“Of course they set up the car a bit more for wet conditions, but nevertheless, to do that in a Williams was very impressive.
“I do expect him to do very well if he gets that seat.”
Mercedes will bet on Russell, 23, to be its long-term option with Hamilton signing a new two-year contract beyond this season but unlikely to stay in F1 beyond 2023.
That will pit Russell against fellow 23-year-old Verstappen and Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) for years to come in F1, with the likes of Lando Norris (McLaren) also forming part of an exciting next generation of top-line drivers.
Verstappen said: “It’s a natural thing, at one point other drivers get too old so they have to retire, and the new people come in. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any drivers in Formula 1!
“Of course, it’s nice that all of us who were in pretty similar categories all the time, already from go-karting.
“We’re not many years apart so it’s nice that you can share these kinds of battles from go-karting all the way to F1.”