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Formula 1

Why Hamilton has ’empathy’ for Verstappen in F1 title fight

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
3 min read

Lewis Hamilton says he empathises with Formula 1 title rival Max Verstappen over the experience of a first championship fight, ahead of the latest round in their battle for the 2021 crown.

Hamilton and Verstappen collided for the second time this season at the last race in Italy, which has given Verstappen a three-place grid penalty for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix.

Verstappen joined the F1 grid at just 17 so already has 133 starts to his name, which means in terms of race starts he is one of the top 50 most experienced drivers of all-time.

He was already a multiple race winner before this season but this is his first title battle and Hamilton has suggested that Verstappen will improve his judgement in battle the more he is exposed to these situations.

Asked if he felt the pressure of the title fight was getting to Verstappen, seven-time champion Hamilton said: “Obviously he won’t admit to it and I’m not going to make an assumption.

“But I remember what it was like, when I had my first one. And it [the pressure] definitely mounted up. It was difficult. It was intense. I was going through a lot of different emotions, I didn’t always handle it the best.

Lewis Hamilton 2007

“And that’s to be expected. There’s a lot of pressure from you working in a big team, there’s a lot of self expectation and pressure because the desire to win is huge.

“So, I empathise and understand that. But I know that we will continue to grow from this.”

One of the key differences in their experiences is that Hamilton was fighting for a title in his rookie season in 2007 whereas Verstappen is now in his seventh already.

Earlier this season Hamilton said Verstappen had something to prove in their fight, after a run of wheel-to-wheel battles on opening laps that included Hamilton being forced off-track at Imola and having to avoid contact at Barcelona.

They have since collided spectacularly at Silverstone, where Hamilton was deemed at fault, and crashed recently at Monza after a failed Verstappen attempt to get past at the first chicane as Hamilton rejoined from a pitstop.

That accident followed another first-lap incident where Verstappen pushed Hamilton wide at the second chicane when Hamilton tried to pass him on the outside.

“I never expect a driver to back down,” said Hamilton. “That’s not how I approach racing with any drivers.

“We all have to be smart and know that there’s a time where you’re not going to make a corner but it’s all about making sure you fight the next corner.

“That’s really kind of just through experience, you find that balance that it’s not all on one corner so there’ll be other opportunities.

Formula 1 Grand Prix, China, Sunday Race

“I know what it’s like fighting for your first championship and your eagerness. You go through lots of different experiences and emotions during that time.

“I do believe that we’ll continue to get stronger and I’m hopeful we won’t have any more incidents through the year.”

Hamilton says he now finds the championship fight “a lot easier to handle than the first one” and has admitted he “didn’t have the tools to be able to handle the sort of pressures that were being put on me, so it’s a lot different for me”.

He hopes that his extra championship experience as the most successful F1 driver of all-time will help during the title run-in, with Verstappen currently holding a five-point lead with eight races to go.

“It’s been an incredibly difficult year,” said Hamilton.

“It’s not been smooth sailing in terms of our performance as a team with the car and everything.”

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