Verstappen heads into the 2022 campaign and F1’s new rules era as the defending world champion after snatching the title from Hamilton on the last lap of last year’s controversial finale in Abu Dhabi following a titanic season-long duel.
Speaking to Crash.net in an exclusive interview ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, AlphaTauri’s Gasly, who went up against Verstappen at Red Bull in 2019, reflected on the intense rivalry that was sparked between F1’s two heavyweights in 2021.
“I think it’s been incredible for our sport,” the Frenchman said. “It’s two incredible drivers driving in two different teams and battling like we haven’t seen for years.
“I really enjoyed it as a motorsport fan before everything else. I enjoyed watching the highlights after the races last year to see what was going on between the two.
“It’s great for our sport and it’s great to see this new generation; Max, myself, Charles, Lando and George, all coming up and we still have Lewis and Fernando [Alonso] there.
“It’s sort of combining two generations and I think that’s great to see.”
So how does Gasly compare Verstappen and Hamilton’s strengths against one another?
“They are both very complete drivers, which is no surprise from a seven-time world champion,” Gasly said.
“I think Max also, compared to when arrived in F1 and the level he is performing now, he’s more complete. And he’s the world champion, so he was the best last year.
“In terms of strength, it’s not only pure speed, it’s racing, making the best of bad days, avoiding silly situations, making crucial decisions or moves to win a race, and making sure to settle for second when you don’t have the pace to win.
“I think it’s more like looking at an overall package and both of them have been performing at a really high level.”
Gasly feels that both drivers’ performances were equally impressive throughout the 2021 season as the momentum in the title race swung back and forth.
“I can’t have a fixed view but there were certain occasions when Max was really impressive, and moments where Lewis was really impressive,” he explained.
“But towards the end of the year with all the pressure and seeing Max putting in really impressive laps in qualifying, sometimes like in Saudi he went over it, but up till that point he was very impressive and very fast, plus the way they battled.
“It’s more like specific moments where it was quite crucial for the championship and either one or the other managed to make something [happen] to make a big impression.”
According to Gasly, the only way to settle such a debate would be to put them both in equal machinery, something he would like to see happen.
“I think put both in an AlphaTauri!” Gasly joked. “I think we should mix the cars up during the season based on your last result. The one that wins gets in the slowest car and the one that is last gets the fastest car, and let’s see what happens.
“No, I think it’s a sport where obviously the car makes the most of the result. The driver still makes an impact with the performance, but the car is a big part of it.
“It’s difficult, you can’t really go with one or the other. They are both excellent.”