Did Hamilton ACTUALLY have harder teammates than Verstappen?

Originally as a video script for WTF1 in September 2023, Dre wrote a script debating whether Max Verstappen or Lewis Hamilton had better teammates in their career.

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Read time: 6 mins

The 2023 Italian Grand Prix weekend featured a war of words between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. In an interview with Sky Sports in Italy Hamilton said that he has had better teammates than the Dutchman at Red Bull has had, with Max responding with some sass of his own saying Hamilton was jealous of his current success. 

It got us thinking back here at WTF1, Just who had the better set of teammates? So we decided to draw up a tier list of all the teammates that both Hamilton and Verstappen have had in their careers to date and rank them depending on how they fared against either Lewis or Max. S-Tier being the highest, and D the lowest. 

We’ll go in chronological order of when the driver made their debut, and give our reasons for why we ranked said driver where we did, so stick around and debate in the comments as to where you would rank each teammate. 

Fernando Alonso (2007), S-Tier

Hamilton had about as tough a teammate to start his F1 career as he could get. In 2007, Fernando Alonso joined McLaren fresh out of winning back-to-back World Titles with Renault. And it was an intense rivalry, including the infamous qualifying fallout in Hungary that season. 

Hamilton had ignored team orders to let Alonso through during the early “fuel burning” phase of Q3, and in retaliation, Alonso deliberately held up Hamilton in the pits for just long enough to make sure he didn’t have time to start his final qualifying lap. Alonso took pole but was given a five-place grid penalty for impeding, and McLaren was excluded from scoring constructor’s championship points that weekend. 

Lewis was every bit as good as Alonso in 2007, winning four times, beating Alonso on pole positions 6-2 and ultimately overall on countback due to having more second-place finishes. It took Lewis producing arguably the greatest rookie season in F1 history to beat him, so we put Alonso in the S-Tier. 

Heikki Kovalainen (2008-2009), C-Tier

After the tension and team politics at McLaren boiled over, Alonso left McLaren after just a year to go back to Renault, with Heikki Kovalainen going the other way. Not for the last time on this list, a new teammate was brought in to calm things down between a team at loggerheads. 

Just one problem… Heikki just wasn’t on Hamilton’s level. In their two years together, Heikki won just one race with the team and was outscored nearly two-to-one (147-75) on points as Hamilton won his first World Title in 2008. As we’ll see later, not all drivers lasted as long as Kovalainen did. At least he lasted two seasons. With that in mind, we had to put Heikki in C-Tier.

Jenson Button (2010-2012) – A-Tier

Jenson Button joined McLaren in 2010, a year after he won his own World Title with Brawn GP, forming an all-British dream team. In their three seasons together, Lewis won 2-1 head-to-head, with 10 wins to Jenson’s eight. But across that time, Button actually outscored Hamilton, 672-657. Most of the difference came from Jenson inflicting Hamilton’s heaviest defeat in a single season.

In 2011, Jenson Button beat Lewis by 43 points, with Hamilton struggling with personal issues off the track and a heated feud with Felipe Massa on it where the two drivers collided multiple times. All things considered, we put Button in the A-Tier for giving Hamilton a solid challenge across their time together, even though we thought Hamilton was slightly better overall. 

Nico Rosberg (2013-2016) – A-Tier

In 2012, Hamilton had enough of the frustrations of a McLaren team whose poor reliability denied him a title challenge and decided to leave the Woking team for Mercedes. Nico Rosberg had spent three years at Brackley already and convincingly beat a returning Michael Schumacher. The former best friends were now teammates, but their relationship quickly fell apart as both became the only title contenders when the turbo-hybrid era started. 

In hindsight, Rosberg probably went under-appreciated in his time for just how much he was able to push Hamilton, including title deciders in 2014 and 2016, the latter of which he won. Hamilton won 3-1 overall in the four seasons they were teammates and led all the major counting stats, but Rosberg kept improving as a driver and found a way to keep things close by getting under Lewis’s skin. Overall, we felt like Rosberg still came up a little short against Lewis on the whole, but he might go down as his most iconic teammate. We put Rosberg in the A-Tier. 

Carlos Sainz (2015-16) – B-Tier

Max’s first F1 teammate was fellow rookie Carlos Sainz. And this may be controversial, but we think Carlos was quite underrated during his time alongside Max. He won the qualifying match-up head-to-head in 2015. And while Max did score more points, Sainz’s raw speed created tension, which was only diffused when Red Bull promoted Max to Red Bull directly in early 2016. The rest… was history. We’re putting Sainz in the B-Tier here. 

Daniel Ricciardo (2016-18) – A-Tier

We’re also putting Daniel Ricciardo in A-Tier, who at the time, was one of the best drivers in F1 and an early thorn in the sides of the dominant Mercedes team in the turbo-hybrid era. As soon as the Honey Badger was promoted to Red Bull in 2014, he convincingly beat four-time reigning Champion Sebastian Vettel, with the latter quickly moving to Ferrari. 

However, Max was able to keep pace with Ricciardo right from the start of their time together. By 2018, the team was clearly leaning in Max’s direction but no one at Red Bull has been as close to Max at Red Bull since Ricciardo left them at the end of that season to go to Renault. We think Ricciardo belongs in the A-Tier as Verstappen’s best teammate so far. 

Valtteri Bottas – (2017-2020) – B-Tier

Bottas was exactly what Mercedes needed in life after Nico Rosberg. A calming influence, a great team player and someone who ultimately wasn’t good enough to challenge Hamilton’s #1 status. On a good day, he could out-qualify Lewis and win some races, but was never a consistent challenge over their five years as teammates. Bottas won 10 races with the Silver Arrows. Hamilton won 50 in that same time. An important driver for Mercedes, but ultimately, average by comparison. B-Tier for the porridge boss. 

Pierre Gasly (2019) – D-Tier

As said with Heikki, at least the Fin managed two seasons with Lewis as a teammate. Pierre Gasly lasted just 12 races at Red Bull, constantly overdriving his car, having multiple crashes and was nowhere near Max in terms of pace, forcing Red Bull to take drastic action and demoting him back to Toro Rosso in the middle of 2019 in a swap with the man next on the list. Sadly, it left us no choice but to put him in D-Tier.

Alex Albon (2019-2020) – C-Tier

Gasly was replaced with Alex Albon in the middle of 2019 and managed a season and a half, but also struggled to deal with Verstappen as a teammate and as a direct result, a Red Bull car that was very difficult for the Thai driver to adapt to. 

He was unlucky on occasions, losing a couple of podiums to Lewis Hamilton’s aggressive racecraft in Brazil and Austria, but Red Bull understandably wanted a more experienced second driver, hiring Sergio Perez in 2021, only the second time the organisation has ever hired a driver from outside their academy setup. As a result, we put Albon in C-Tier.

Sergio Perez (2021-) – B-Tier

That leads to Max’s current teammate, Sergio Perez. We think he’s a slight cut above both Gasly and Albon before him. He can genuinely challenge and beat Max on street circuits in particular, but take the Mexican out of his comfort zone and he can massively struggle, especially in qualifying as we’ve seen in 2023. He’s a cut above Gasly and Albon, but that’s really not saying much. B-Tier for Checo. 

George Russell (2022-) – A-Tier

And finally, George Russell, Hamilton’s latest teammate. It’s been a relationship that hasn’t been at the focal point for Mercedes as they rebuild from their poor car to start this set of regulations, and Lewis taking on the majority of the development work since then has probably made George look a little better by comparison, but George has gained a foothold within the team on merit. 

Russell’s made more mistakes, like his wall smash at Canada in 2023, but he has shown the potential to challenge Lewis more frequently than Checo does at Red Bull. We’re putting George in the A-Tier.

So, there’s our tier list for all of Hamilton and Verstappen’s teammates, and looking at the overall picture, we agree that Lewis has had the tougher set of team-mates overall, even if it would be a stretch to say all of his team-mates have been better than Max has faced (Sorry Heikki.). But what do you think? Let us know in the comments, and if you liked the video, be sure to Subscribe! 

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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