Lewis Hamilton was left ‘punch-drunk’ after his bitter last-lap loss to Max Verstappen, claims David Coulthard… who insists the Brit can still battle it out for this year’s championship – but must also watch out for Mercedes team-mate George Russell
- Lewis Hamilton endured a winless campaign for first time in his career in 2022
- But he enters the new season with fresh belief he can win a record eighth title
- David Coulthard is convinced he can return to the top, but he now has new rivals
Lewis Hamilton still has his best ability to compete for world titles ahead of the F1 opener in Bahrain on Sunday despite having suffered his worst season, insists David Coulthard.
The seven-time world champion endured a nightmare campaign last year, going an entire season without a Grand Prix victory or even a pole position for the first time in his career.
Hamilton had entered 2022 looking to win a record eighth title after a bitter defeat by Verstappen, who passed the Brit on the final lap of the season finale in Abu Dhabi Grand Prix following a highly controversial safety car period to snatch the world championship.
Coulthard, though, believes Mercedes’ troubles with the pace of their 2022 car left Hamilton deflated and unable to show his best form, meaning he was also beaten by new team-mate George Russell.
‘I don’t think we saw the best of Lewis Hamilton last season’, Coulthard told Sportsmail.
Lewis Hamilton endured his worst ever Formula One season in 2022 by not taking a victory
The Brit’s poor year came off the back of a devastating last lap title defeat by Max Verstappen
‘He expected to be fighting at the front after the tough break he got in Abu Dhabi  and would have expected to at least be in another title challenge against Max Verstappen.
‘I think Mercedes’ lack of pace to leave him without a credible championship challenge left him punch-drunk and full credit to George Russell he was able to take full advantage and beat him in his first season in the team.
Coulthard, who won 13 races with Williams and McLaren during his career, believes Hamilton will be back to his best this term and can lead a challenge to world champion Verstappen, who retained his title with ease last season.
But he also states that Hamilton may find one of his biggest rivals comes from inside Mercedes in Russell, who took the team’s only pole and win in 2022.
‘It’s incredibly likely we will see a rejuvenated Hamilton this year as I don’t think he has lost any of his ability as a racing driver’, Coulthard added.
‘However, his big concern will be the other side of the garage. Russell was excellent after joining from Williams and he took the team’s only pole in Hungary and victory in Brazil.
‘Beating Hamilton would have been an unexpected bonus for him and that will only give him huge confidence heading into his second season with the team.
David Coulthard, though, believes Hamilton still has his best ability to compete for titles
Hamilton can expect strong competition from Verstappen (centre) and George Russell (right)
Meanwhile, the big surprise of pre-season testing came from Aston Martin, who produced encouraging times in Sakhir to emerge as a potential threat to the established three teams in Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari.
Fernando Alonso’s pace during testing was reflected during practice ahead of the first race of the season when he topped the time sheets on Friday.
Despite being 41, Alonso is still showing remarkably quick pace, and Coulthard, who will feature as a pundit for C4 throughout the season, believes the two-time world champion’s relentless dedication towards F1 is his secret to maintaining his still incredible pace.
‘Alonso has been impressive and is clearly showing how a Grand Prix driver can still be quick even in his 40s,’ the Scot said.
‘It might seem odd how he can still be quick yet someone like Michael Schumacher struggled at a similar age but there situations are not exactly the same.
Fernando Alonso raised eyebrows in the paddock after going quickest on Friday in practice
‘Alonso had a shorter time away from the sport than Michael but another reason he has remained close to his best is his commitment to the sport. Many drivers can start exploring business opportunities outside of the sport as they approach the end of their career but he has largely ignored those and focused on keeping himself fit.
‘I think he is benefitting hugely from maintaining his focus on motor racing and you can see from his on-track performance. He can still be a force at Aston Martin this season.’
Coulthard features on Channel 4’s highlights of the Bahrain GP on Sunday at 9pm
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