McLaren’s new face Daniel Ricciardo has sent seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton a subtle warning shot, claiming he’s not had the “strongest competition” during his Mercedes dominance.
Hamilton, one of the most decorated drivers in F1, won the opening race of the 2021 season in Bahrain after an epic and close duel with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
The 36-year-old has won back-to-back titles since 2014 with Mercedes, only stopped in 2016 by his then team-mate Nico Rosberg.
However 2022 we will see a reset across the teams, with the highly anticipated new regulations coming in – the most interesting being changes to the aerodynamics package that should improve the chances of overtaking.
“I really hope s**t hits the fan in a good way, It really should do on paper – everyone’s best chance to challenge Lewis and Mercedes,” Ricciardo told Square Mile.
Hamilton has broken many records since his first year at McLaren back in 2007, and is now vying for an eighth world title, the most any driver has ever had.
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However Ricciardo believed in the same machinery, others could be up there fighting for wins alongside him.
“To answer it diplomatically, I think Lewis isn’t the only one that could win races in that car,” he continued.
“That’s obviously my opinion and I think that George Russell, in a way, showed the possibility of that by pretty much beating Valtteri [Bottas] in his first race.
“So you could argue that just maybe Lewis doesn’t have the strongest competition.”
Ricciardo, who is a race-winner and has spent a decade in the sport, has recently moved over to McLaren to partner Brit Lando Norris at the Woking based team, but has yet to snatch his own title.
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And Ricciardo concluded it would be easier to beat Hamilton in an individual race than over an entire season, with the Brits dominance.
“I think, where we can’t be too aggressive or disrespectful to Lewis, is that, do a few of us believe we could beat him? Yes. I’m quite sure of that,” the Aussie said.
“But none of us have ever been in the hunt for a title. None of us have dealt with that pressure. None of us have had that year after year.
“Pretty much every weekend he rocks up to a race. Yes, he has the best car, but he’s also expected to win all the time. And if he doesn’t, it’s, ‘OK, what happened to Lewis?’.”
Mercedes are expecting to be pushed to their limits this season, after Verstappen topped all the timing sheets across the Bahrain Grand Prix.
And it’s a driver Ricciardo knows well, after some high-profile clashes while partnering the Dutchman at Red Bull.
That relationship came to an end in 2018, however the Australian admitted their relationship has improved since.
He said: “I think it’s easier now for me and Max to be friends for two reasons.
“I think one is that obviously we’re not in direct competition – we’re not trying to basically end each other’s careers.
“The second point is that I think – I mean, of course, I won races with him as a teammate and got pole position so I think he always knew I was quick and respected me.
“But now, since I’ve left, the other drivers have come through and him having different team-mates, I think it’s probably increased his respect for me even more.
“I mean we never hated each other, we just wanted to end each other’s careers! It’s as simple as that.”
Hamilton will be hoping to extend his lead at the top of the standings on Sunday in Imola for round two of the 2021 Formula One season.