Who’s the baddest man in the Formula 1 paddock? Max Verstappen is the favorite to win his third racing championship in a row in 2023, but is he unbeatable outside the car, too? Lewis Hamilton could be in his final F1 season if Mercedes isn’t fast enough again, but would he beat George Russell in a fist fight? And how about Fernando Alonso’s old man strength?
We found the man to decipher that hypothetical scenario.
A former test driver for the Williams team in 1998 — who have also raced in IndyCar and won titles in Brazil — Max Wilson is the F1 color commentator in his native country. In his spare time, Wilson chooses to “relax” trading punches and kicks in martial arts classes at Chute Boxe Diego Lima team in Sao Paulo, under the same roof of former UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira.
Wilson has trained judo, jiu-jitsu, muay thai and boxing since childhood, but racing cars ended up winning as a career choice for him. We interviewed Wilson regarding F1, and settling driver disputes for MMA-style. Now, he crowns the ultimate 2023 Formula 1 MMA champion for all ten F1 teams. Here is how he views these hypothetical ten matchups.
Red Bull: Max Verstappen vs. Sergio Perez
Well, if it’s a five-round fight and it goes to a decision, Max Verstappen beats Sergio Perez by 50-44 — if he doesn’t knock him out in the first round. We had the first race and saw that Verstappen wasn’t even threatened, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve seen his full potential. It’s very common for a driver to go on a cruising speed when he’s on a safe distance to the other drivers. I don’t know yet if Verstappen can finish 10 seconds ahead of the second of a full minute, we’ll find out during the season.
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton vs. George Russell
If they fight 10 times — and I know nobody fights 10 times, I think the record is four times between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno — I think each fighter wins five. Hamilton is one of the greatest drivers in Formula 1 history. Russell obviously doesn’t have Hamilton’s numbers, but he’s shown potential and talent. Aside from experience, he has as much potential as Hamilton. Russell finished ahead of Hamilton last year, too. But if they only fought once, it’s a draw.
Aston Martin: Fernando Alonso vs. Lance Stroll
What Alonso has done is impressive. If you go back in Formula 1 history, drivers stop racing when things get more complicated after winning their championships. Alonso won his last championship 17 years ago and was close to winning again in 2007 and twice for Ferrari. He had rough years after that, left Formula 1 and came back, but he’s still around. He has the opportunity to fight for the first positions in 2023 now, and that resilience is what I admire about him. I’d say Alonso wins this fight by knockout, or 50-44 if it goes to a decision.
Ferrari: Charles Leclerc vs. Carlos Sainz
I think this fight ends in a decision, and Leclerc wins eight out of 10 fights. Maybe Carlos Sainz would get a win here or there because he’s talented, but I think Leclerc is a level above — but not so high to say he’d win all 10 fights.
Alfa Romeo: Valtteri Bottas vs. Zhou Guanyu
Look, Zhou Guanyu had a spectacular debut season last year, he didn’t make many mistakes and raced right next to Bottas. Bottas, even though he doesn’t have great numbers like Hamilton, he got the pole position 20 times when they were on the same team. He’s fast, but he doesn’t have the consistency of Hamilton or Verstappen. Back to this fight, they were close last year, but I’d say Bottas is the favorite because of his experienced in Formula 1. I’d say Bottas wins 29-28 in a three-round fight.
McLaren: Lando Norris vs. Oscar Piastri
This is very similar to the Jose Aldo vs. Max Holloway fight — not much for the result, but the history. You have a well-established guy, someone we all know is a genius, and another one with great potential. I think that’s the case with Piastri and Norris. Even tough Norris is very young, he already has a great record in Formula 1. Piastri has shown potential, winning Formula 3 in his debut year, and then winning Formula 2 in his debut year, and then getting to Formula 1. He has the potential, but time will tell if he can beat the older lion. He didn’t come close in the first race but that was his first and we can give him a break. I’d rather not make a pick for this fight [laughs].
Haas: Kevin Magnussen vs. Nico Hulkenberg
Magnussen had a great year in his return to Formula 1 last year but I place my bets on Hulkenberg. Hulkenberg is like [Ronaldo Souza] ‘Jacare’. ‘Jacare’ had all the potential to become UFC champion but came up short many times when he was about to get the opportunity, but not being UFC champion doesn’t change the fact he couldn’t have been. Quite the opposite, really. Hulkenberg’s Formula 1 record is like ‘Jacare’s’ MMA record. He has the record for most races without a podium finish, just like ‘Jacare’ never got to a title fight. But Hulkenberg’s potential is immense. Hulkenberg is one of the only pilots Rubens Barrichello has praised as teammates. Despite those numbers and the fact he’s never finished in the podium — and being three years away from Formula 1 — getting Haas to the Q3 shows his potential. So I’d pick Hulkenberg to win.
Alpine: Esteban Ocon vs. Pierre Gasly
This one is a bit tougher because they’ve only raced once as teammates and it’s hard to draw conclusions. Even though Ocon qualified better [in Bahrain], Gasly’s race was way better than Ocon’s. I’d stay on the fence for this one [laughs].
AlphaTauri: Yuki Tsunoda vs. Nyck de Vries
Based on the first race, we’d imagine that Tsunoda will be faster than de Vries all year because he did way better on the race, but I believe in de Vries. All the tension and emotion in your first Formula 1 race gets to you and affects your performance. De Vries’ career history, Formula 2 and Formula E champion — and I think he has something Tsunoda doesn’t, which is professionalism. I think he’s very talented, so my pick is de Vries, 30-27.
Williams: Alex Albon vs. Logan Sargeant
We’ve only had one of 23 rounds so far in the Formula 1 season so it’s too early to say anything. Albon did great so far this year, but so did Logan Sargeant. Sargeant has this label that he didn’t get to Formula 1 by merit, but for the fact he’s American, but the way a driver gets to Formula 1 doesn’t necessarily tell how his future is going to be. For example, [Michael] Schumacher went to Formula 1 thanks to Mercedes. Logan Sargeant was by far the best debutant [in Bahrain]. He did great in the first race despite all the expectation and the tension, so I think he has a lot of room for improvement. Maybe it’s a split decision, but I don’t know who wins.