Verstappen sealed his second drivers’ world title in extraordinary circumstances at a chaotic, rain-shortened Japanese Grand Prix to wrap up the 2022 world championship with four races to spare. 

But is Lewis Hamilton the man to stop Verstappen, after turning in one of the most ruthless and convincing title defences ever witnessed in F1, from a new era of domination? 

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Can Hamilton stop Verstappen? 

Hamilton’s recent domination of F1 was ended by Verstappen last year. 

After being denied a record-breaking eighth title in controversial circumstances at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, 2022 has brought more disappointment and frustration for Hamilton. 

Hamilton is on course for his worst season in F1 amid Mercedes’ struggles for competitiveness at the start of a new era of regulations that has seen eight straight years of winning come crashing to an end for the Silver Arrows. 

Based on 2021, Hamilton is perhaps the only driver capable of taking it to Verstappen in a straight fight, but Mercedes’ difficulties have left the seven-time world champion winless so far, enabling Verstappen to romp home to title glory. 

But as shown this season, any renewal of their fierce rivalry will hinge on whether Mercedes can return to the front of the grid next year. 

Given the plethora of complex issues Mercedes have faced with their W13 challenger, it may not be a quick fix, something made even more tricky in F1’s cost cap era. 

After finishing fifth at Suzuka, Hamilton expressed confidence that Mercedes will provide him with a more competitive car for F1 2023

“I believe that as a team, we’ve not gone from being world champions to not being able to build a good car. I have no doubts we’ll build a better car next year,” Hamilton told Sky. 

“Whether we rectify every issue that we faced this year? We’ll find out when we get there.”

Who else can challenge Verstappen?

Charles Leclerc - largely let down by Ferrari - ultimately fell short in his attempts to challenge for a maiden world championship. There is no doubting his raw speed, but Leclerc remains fallible. 

Barring one or two minor anomalies, which ultimately had little bearing on his season, Verstappen just doesn’t make mistakes. Verstappen’s outstanding 2022 campaign had shades of Michael Schumacher-esque consistency. He also exudes a self-confidence not shared by many. 

Then there is Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez. At one (albeit very brief) stage amid Ferrari’s floundering, it looked as though Perez might emerge as Verstappen’s biggest threat.

Perez enjoyed one of his strongest F1 weekends in Monaco, outpacing Verstappen in qualifying and turning in a superb drive, combined with Red Bull’s strategy, to take his first win of the season. 

That left him just 15 points behind championship leader Verstappen. 

At the next race in Baku, Perez once again found himself leading Verstappen. But with Perez struggling with tyre graining and being caught by Verstappen, the Mexican was told “no fighting” as Red Bull orchestrated a position swap. 

Despite Red Bull insisting there was no use of team orders, it felt like a defining moment of backing towards Verstappen, which came at little surprise. 

Perez’s hopes of challenging for his first title were then effectively extinguished with costly retirements in Canada and Austria. Perez has struggled to match Verstappen ever since, aside from an impressive victory in Singapore. 

Given how rare it is that he has beaten Verstappen over their two seasons as teammates to date, it is hard to see a scenario in which Perez can genuinely challenge the two-time world champion for a title. 

Verstappen ‘at another level to everyone’ 

Verstappen’s title defence began on the backfoot when he suffered two reliability-induced retirements in the opening three races, casting real doubt on his championship hopes. 

Verstappen was left 46 points behind Leclerc and down sixth in sixth place in the championship after he retired from second place in Australia thanks to a fuel leak. 

But Verstappen and Red Bull’s response has been nothing short of phenomenal. So much so, that the team’s reliability issues feel like a lifetime ago.

After overcoming those problems and taking charge of the world championship, Verstappen ultimately enjoyed a comfortable run to his second world title, claiming a staggering 12 wins from 18 races. 

“It’s beyond all our dreams,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Sky. “Max has been truly, truly dominant [this season]. 

“We came back from some difficulties in the first couple of races, but honestly, he and the team have just raised it to another level.

“I’m incredibly proud of everything he’s done, everything the team [has done] – all the men and women back in Milton Keynes have gone way and beyond under massive pressure. To achieve this championship is truly special.”

In the end, Verstappen made it all look rather easy and seemed capable of winning from anywhere - taking victories from 14th, 10th and seventh on the grid. 

But that doesn’t tell the full story. At many races, Ferrari appeared to have the fastest car, especially over one lap, with Leclerc scoring nine poles in 18 races. 

“Ferrari had a very quick car, early on,” Red Bull’s chief technical officer Adrian Newey acknowledged. “In many races, to be honest, they were probably a bit quicker.

“But we managed to round out the performance envelope of the car and get it running at all circuits. We’ve had a good run since the summer break ended.” 

And after all, Perez has so far only managed two victories and one pole position in the same car Verstappen has taken to five poles and 12 wins. 

"I don't feel like Red Bull had a dominant car to win the championship the way Max won it,” Perez admitted. 

“When he got comfortable with the car, he was driving at another level to everyone. Some of the races he did were incredible to watch."

This wasn’t simply a tale of Red Bull domination, but one of Verstappen being in a league of his own.