A straight title fight with Verstappen? ‘Game on’, says Hamilton


Amid the early stages of what promises to be a tight championship battle between the Mercedes and Red Bull team leaders, Lewis Hamilton reckons this is the competitive match-up he’s been waiting for

Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton 2021 Portugal GP

Hamilton says a season-long battle with Verstappen would be great to have

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Lewis Hamilton has admitted that he expects to have his hands full with a revitalised Max Verstappen as he fights for a record eight world championship crown this year.

Across the first three grands prix so far this year we’ve been treated to some close head-to-head battles between Hamilton and Dutchman Verstappen, with the title fight already starting to look like it will become a two-horse race as the pair begin to leave others in their wake.

After several seasons of Mercedes domination, the Brackley squad now appears to have lost its distinct advantage over its Milton Keynes neighbour, with Red Bull’s high-raker concept beginning to pay real dividends on its RB16B.

While Hamilton narrowly held off a charging Verstappen in the season-opener in Bahrain, Verstappen struck back with victory at Imola, before chasing Hamilton to the flag again in Portugal as the Briton made it 2-1 for the year so far.

With another close fight expected around Barcelona this weekend, Hamilton said he was loving the competition with Red Bull.

“This year I think we’ll see the closest championship battle that we’ve had for some time,” he said. “Max really is exceptional, and he has a championship-winning car this year, no doubt, and he’s with a championship-winning team, so it’s going to be really tough all season, and it’s a long season.

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“Obviously, my preference is to be racing against another team rather than just my team-mate: a team at their best, a team that is actually slightly in front of us, and I think we have that with Red Bull this year. We’re all here to race, and fight for wins, that’s what the sport is about, and Max is incredibly hungry, for both race wins and to win this championship, so game on is what I say.”

Hamilton has the edge in experience out of the two drivers, but was keen to stress that the real differences would come on track, rather than either party becoming engaged in a psychological battle as the season progresses.

“I think experience can definitely help in such a close title fight,” Hamilton added. “It’s the experience of how to approach any specific race, or how to bounce back from bad ones. But we still have to concentrate on not making any mistakes, and I think we’ll see that even the bonus points for fastest laps at races are going to be crucial this season.

“I’m not really about the psychological sorts of battles, getting into other people’s heads or trying to put them off. I don’t feel we need to be doing it, we just need to keep doing our talking on the track.”

Red Bull has been making advances off the circuit also and recently announced a fresh round of ex-Mercedes technical staff would be stepping across to join its new engine programme after it takes over development of the Honda power unit after this season.


The racing has been clean between the two so far this season, but will that last?

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Hamilton said he wasn’t concerned that Mercedes could be fighting a war on two fronts this year: “I’ve got the best ally there is in the form of Toto [Wolff, team boss] to help keep stability in the technical side of the team. If some staff have moved on, I wish them all the best and it’s important that we all take our own path in life, so I hope such a move works out for them. But this is a huge team, and a very motivated team. It’s not about one or five individuals, it’s about a huge technical team.”

While Hamilton has thrived under the pressure from Red Bull, his opposite number Valtteri Bottas has struggled. The Finn has scored two podium finishes this season and struggled to match the pace of the top two. He also disappointingly slipped back from pole position in the Portuguese Grand Prix.

While Bottas outright dismissed any talk of him being replaced mid-season, Hamilton gave his number two the seal of approval, adding: “Valtteri has been and is a great team-mate, and together we keep delivering for this team in terms of championship titles and race wins. He qualified on pole for the last race and is still getting people asking questions. I think people just need to give him a break…”