Verstappen and Mercedes rival Hamilton were engaged in a race-long battle for the win in F1’s season-opener, which was ultimately settled in the dying moments of the race.
Verstappen caught Hamilton in the final stint and overtook him with four laps to go, but completed the move off-track and was forced to hand back the position.
Hamilton managed to keep Verstappen behind through the remaining laps and secured victory by 0.7 seconds. Third-placed Valtteri Bottas finished a further 37 seconds behind after completing a late pit stop.
The race left the F1 paddock talking up a possible season-long scrap between Verstappen and Hamilton, with Red Bull advisor Marko believing it proved they are in a league of their own compared to the rest of the grid.
“The race clearly showed that the two are in a class of their own,” Marko told Autosport’s sister publication Formul1.de in an exclusive interview.
“The thing that Hamilton has over Max is incredible consistency. I don’t know how many races he has, how many wins. You could see how he did a great job tactically, how he made line changes and so on. It was a very difficult race for Max.
“But again, they are more or less on a par with each other. Max will also be able to draw on a wealth of experience like Hamilton’s at some point.”
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 2nd position, and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st position, on the podium
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
Verstappen was left disappointed after the race, asking his Red Bull team over the radio upon crossing the line why it did not let him keep the position and accept a time penalty.
Verstappen felt confident he could have built a five-second gap over Hamilton with his fresher tyres to negate the penalty, but Marko believes the stewards would have adjusted the penalty accordingly.
“He caught up so drastically and Hamilton’s tyres were at their end,” Marko said.
“The only thing is that the five seconds wouldn’t have guaranteed a win. We were convinced that the penalty would have been such that Hamilton would have won.
“If he was 5.8 seconds ahead, we would have got 10 seconds. From that point of view, staying ahead would not have helped.”