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Formula One F1 - French Grand Prix - Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France - July 24, 2022Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium after winning the race alongside second place Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and third place Mercedes' George Russell REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

Button: If any team will challenge Red Bull it’s Mercedes

Formula One F1 - French Grand Prix - Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France - July 24, 2022Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium after winning the race alongside second place Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and third place Mercedes' George Russell REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

Jenson Button believes that despite a winless season last year, Mercedes (not Ferrari) are most likely to challenge Red Bull when the lights go out to start the Bahrain Grand Prix and kick off the 2024 Formula 1 World Championship.

It does not take a sage to predict that Max Verstappen and Red Bull will be the team to beat. And, in the wake of the worst drubbing F1 teams have ever received from their rivals in 73 years of the sport, their rivals have a substantial gap (plus minus one second in all modes) to close if the year ahead is not to be another 2023 ‘Groundhog Day’ of dominance by the World Champs.

Obliged to have fought a much better fight than they did last year, F1 looks to the other big teams, aka Ferrari and Mercedes to up the ante and not be humiliated again as they were last year. The score is embarrassing: Red Bull-21 vs All The Others-1!

Looking ahead with well-meant optimism no doubt, during a Sky F1 interview Button was asked who would be taking the fight to Red Bull in ’24, Button said: “Mercedes. When you look at the last 10 years in the sport, it’s Mercedes and Red Bull, so it would be Mercedes.

“I would love to say, Ferrari, I would love to have them in the mix. You could say they were the closest competitor, especially towards the end of the season, but I think Mercedes will have a good improvement. Whether it’s enough, I don’t know.”

While big teams dropped the ball, their drivers shone through. Despite not winning a  race all of 2023, Mercedes did finish second in the Constructors Championship largely thanks to Lewis Hamilton and George Russell making the most of what they had, which was never going to be a match for the RBR19 with Max on duty.

Button: There are some seriously strong driver line-ups

Button: There are some seriously strong driver line-ups F1-2023-drivers-scaled

McLaren youngsters Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri were among the other drivers that stood out. Often only bettered by Verstappen. The Australian rookie claimed F1 Sprint Race victory in Qatar to crown a stellar season. His teammate, is itching for a race-winning car and an overdue one too

Button continued: “There are some seriously strong driver line-ups. Mercedes, can’t go past those two. I know Lewis, we were team-mates for three years, and for George to get as close as he has to Lewis is impressive. But in terms of the young guns at McLaren, super strong.

“Oscar with a year under his belt, he’ll have more consistency going into the 2024 season. He had glimpses of greatness [in 2023] obviously but then consistency just wasn’t there, I think he ended up with less than half the points of Lando.

“But coming into a second season he’s got that under his belt, I think he’ll be competitive. So those two drivers will definitely push McLaren forward a bit as well.”

Button: Lewis is as good as ever

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As for his former McLaren teammate, Button said of Hamilton: “When you’ve won for so many years and then suddenly that’s taken away from you, it can work in two different ways.

“One, you are just like ‘well, there’s no point anymore, I want to retire, I’ve been at the peak for so long and now I’ve not won a race in two years’. But also it can make you more hungry to get back to that, and Lewis is in that position right now I think.

“Lewis is as good as ever I would say in terms of his outright speed, but also now he seems much more comfortable in himself and confident in his ability, so he makes fewer mistakes. So he’s even better now than he was five or six years ago.

“That’s tough [for his rivals]. If he gets a car that’s competitive enough to fight for victories, when someone’s that strong and that confident in themselves it’s difficult to beat, as you can see with Max Verstappen right now,” concluded Button.

The 2009 F1 World Champion will himself be on the grid in 2024, driving for Porsche in the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship including Le Mans.

2024 F1 preseason testing in Bahrain runs from 21-23 February, followed by the first Grand Prix weekend with FP1 set for Friday 29 February.