Former world champion Jenson Button has branded Max Verstappen the most gifted driver in F1 over his old team-mate Lewis Hamilton. The duo’s contrasting driving styles have prompted fierce debate regarding who is the current top dog, even if car performance has made direct competition impossible during the first few weeks of the season.
Verstappen and Hamilton went toe to toe last season as fans were treated to a gripping and controversial war that raged all the way until the final lap in Abu Dhabi.
The Dutchman came out on top to clinch his first world title, but the contentious nature of his victory ensured that the discussion surrounding who is the better driver would persist. FIA race director Michael Masi, who played a massive part in Verstappen’s win, was later sacked for his role in the drama.
Button, who won the world title with Brawn in 2009, favours Verstappen when it comes to raw talent despite his prior allegiances to Hamilton.
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“Naturally gifted? Yes [Verstappen is top of the field],” Button admitted to Sky Sports, “Is he the best? I don’t know if he’s the best driver that has ever lived or the best in F1 now.
“When you look at Lewis, you think he is a much more complete racing driver with a lot more experience, maybe that’s why. He [Verstappen] has got to work hard. Even if you think you’re the best, there’s still more you can do to be better. That is where Michael Schumacher was so strong.”
Button spent three seasons between 2010 and 2012 as Hamilton’s team-mate at McLaren. The former, with more experience under his belt, pipped his compatriot in 2011 with an impressive second-place finish in the Championship while Hamilton wound up fifth. The younger of the pair prevailed in their other two years as partners.
Hamilton added to his single world title at McLaren by winning another six at Mercedes, putting him on par with Schumacher at the top of the sport’s all-time list. There seems little chance of adding to that total this season, however, or even pitting his talents against Verstappen as the Silver Arrows’ porpoising issues have wreaked havoc thus far.
While Button pointed out that Hamilton has the advantage in terms of experience and maturity over the Red Bull man, Verstappen has plenty more years left in the game to nuture those skills at just 24-years-old. Furthermore, Button highlighted that Hamilton cannot contend with his rival’s rare genetic makeup.
“When you look at Max’s parents, his dad raced in F1,” he added, “He was an amazing talent, one of the best kart drivers ever, and still probably to this day. And his mother, Sophie, I was teammates with her in karting. She was a professional and one of the best in the world, so it’s definitely in the blood.”