Jolyon Palmer has warned Max Verstappen's rivals that there may only be two ways to beat him in 2023 following another dominant performance from the Dutchman at the Mexican Grand Prix.
While Mercedes looked to be at their most competitive level so far of the 2022 season – with the W13 benefitting from the thin air of the higher altitude Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez – the team were ultimately unable to mount a serious challenge to Verstappen during Sunday's race.
Former F1 driver Palmer admits that it was a surprise to see the Silver Arrows' prospects fall away after Verstappen secured pole position ahead of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell on Saturday.
"Mexico City is a circuit where the pole-sitter has had an erratic time in the past, so the thought of a Mercedes victory – or at least an entertaining fight for the win – seemed plausible on Saturday evening," Palmer wrote in his column for Formula1.com.
"No pole-sitter at the previous three Mexican Grands Prix had even managed to make the podium.
"Inevitably that changed with the dominant Dutchman on pole, commanding a lights-to-flag victory as we've come to expect this year.
"What we didn't expect was Mercedes' challenge wilting, after they were talking up their chances pre-race and have been so close to victory at other circuits where their pace seemed less competitive."
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Palmer blames Mercedes' strategy for struggles
Palmer believes that Mercedes' strategy choices in the Mexican Grand Prix – as well as their use of the Hard tyre – were the cause of their troubles, particularly in terms of Russell's race.
Russell ended the day in P4, with Hamilton P2 between race winner Verstappen and local hero Sergio Perez.
"The call for Russell was the bigger error from Mercedes, in my opinion," Palmer stated.
"Russell matched the pace of Hamilton throughout the Mexican weekend and had nothing to lose by doing something different, as he was already fourth in a four-car race.
"Switching him to Softs would likely have given Mercedes a double podium, and, by staying out, there was the added benefit of pitting during a potential Safety Car.
"George was calling for it from the cockpit as well, but Mercedes were ultimately cautious with strategy in Mexico – and that's not how they will be able to challenge the mighty Verstappen-Red Bull partnership in 2022."
Verstappen looks strong for 2023, warns Palmer
Palmer has praised Verstappen's performance in Mexico, and believes that the two-time World Champion's abilities are even greater than his recent achievements.
"Credit should go to Verstappen for the way he absorbed the early pressure and then optimised his own strategy by ensuring he had plenty of life in the Medium tyre," Palmer added.
"Mexico has always been a low energy track that’s kind on tyres. Red Bull used that to their full advantage, but it still takes the driver to do the job from the cockpit as well.
"Verstappen is looking the complete package right now and while his victory stats show the extent of his dominance this season, they don’t display the full array of his skillset that we’ve witnessed."
As such, Palmer expects that anyone keen to challenge Verstappen in 2023 may have their work cut out.
"For those hoping to take the fight to Verstappen next year, they'll need to be either raising their own game, or banking on the Dutchman taking his eye off the ball after securing title number two, because there's not many chinks in his armour at the moment," Palmer concluded.
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