Lewis Hamilton has accused title rival Max Verstappen of feeling the pressure of his first championship campaign as the two titans attempt to move past their latest race-ending crash ahead of the Russian Grand Prix.
Their high-profile collision in Monza two weeks ago saw Verstappen’s car vault onto Hamilton’s cockpit. Thankfully both walked away unharmed, but the stewards deemed the Dutchman to be mostly at fault and will demote him three places on this weekend’s grid.
It’s far from the first time the two have come together, having smashed in Silverstone and come close to more serious crashes in Imola and Barcelona.
Both are racing to the limit in F1’s hottest championship fight in years, but Hamilton has suggested Verstappen’s eagerness for a first crown is clouding his judgement.
“I remember what it was like battling for my first championship,” he said. “I remember what it was like and the pressure and experiences that you go with, so I empathise with that.
“I think what is important is that we continue to race hard but fair. I have no doubts that we will both be professional and learn from the past.
“I think ultimately we all have to be smart and know there is a time you’re not going to make a corner … that’s really just through experience you find that balance and you know it’s not all won on one corner.”
Whether Hamilton really feels empathy for Verstappen’s situation or not, it was undoubtedly an attempt to refocus the spotlight on the Dutchman and off himself ahead of a crucial test of his title health this weekend.
Asked about the implication that he is cracking under the pressure, Verstappen joked, “Yeah, I’m so nervous I can hardly sleep! It’s so horrible to fight for a title, I really hate it!
“Those comments — I mean it just shows you that he doesn’t really know me, which is fine.
“I just focus on myself and I really enjoy it out there at the front and of course hopefully we can do it for a really long time.
“I’m very relaxed about all those things and I really can’t be bothered — you know, I’m very chilled. It’s the best feeling ever to have a great car where you go into every weekend and you can fight for a win.”
But the talk stops when the flag drops, and it’s only on the track we’ll see who’s feeling the pressure of this title battle.
Mercedes has such an affinity for this circuit that it’s difficult to go past Lewis Hamilton for victory, but the prospect of a wet qualifying session puts the downforce-ladened Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen in the box seat to start from pole.
Pole position: Max Verstappen
Race podium: Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas