Verstappen didn’t get that whole picture, but it did lead to the notion of pressure being one that ran throughout the race weekend in Sochi. Perhaps it wouldn’t have done if neither driver had made a mistake, but it was Hamilton who blinked first, sliding into the wall at the pit entry during Q3 and ending his chances of taking pole position.
It was a big moment, because Hamilton had a massive opportunity to pull out a significant lead over Verstappen given the latter’s power unit penalty that left the Red Bull at the back of the grid. Pole had looked a formality, and suddenly he was lucky to be starting fourth.
Naturally, the P word was quickly raised after the session.
“It’s really nothing to do with pressure, honestly,” Hamilton insisted. “It really wasn’t a pressure scenario. It’s literally just mistakes do happen. I came into the pits, I knew that I didn’t have a huge amount of time and I was attacking.”
But it is about pressure. Making that mistake came from the pressure of the situation. Hamilton admitted himself in that answer that he knew he didn’t have much time to spare so needed to be quick, and made the error. And that’s because his pole position was under threat, which would have an impact on his chances of winning the race, and by association his championship hopes.
Of course Verstappen was simply getting to sit back and watch this all unfold, having completed just two laps in Q1 and called it a day. He was confident in his abilities in race trim and didn’t see the need to try and outqualify Charles Leclerc to gain a spot on the grid.
Both drivers delivered in the race, even if at times it ebbed and flowed and each looked under pressure. The fact that they ended up one-two showed they both maximised their chances, because they couldn’t really do anything about the other. But the big winner was Verstappen.
Heading into the weekend, it would have been a pretty safe bet that Hamilton would win. That’s not to detract from Hamilton’s performance on Sunday, but given Mercedes’ history in Sochi and with Verstappen starting last, he was the clear favourite. So for Verstappen to finish second to him as a massive bonus for the Red Bull driver.