Hamilton-Verstappen, an old-fashioned rivalry
2:00 p.m., October 24, 2021
F1 fans have been waiting for a duel at the top for five seasons, they are served. The last time Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) really had to fight in his quest for a world title was in 2016 when he faced teammate Nico Rosberg. It was then necessary to wait for the final Grand Prix to know the outcome, which had turned to the advantage of the German. This season promises an equally late epilogue against Max Verstappen (Red Bull-Honda). The two men were titillated on the track from the first day of testing in Austin (United States), where the start will be given this Sunday evening (9 p.m.). The only certainty is that the title will not escape them even if, on paper, seven drivers can still claim the crown.
A fifth title in a row?
To win a fifth straight title, the eighth of his career, Lewis Hamilton will have to regain the advantage over the Dutchman. From the top of his 24 years, this one appears imperturbable, without qualms. In addition to his obvious talent served by a very competitive single-seater, he makes the most of his top speed by relying on an aggressive and uncompromising style. Main concern for his British rival: Verstappen is not a cerebral, small verbal games do not disturb him. Nico Rosberg can however attest to the importance of psychological play at this level. Five years ago, he had to draw from the depths of his reserves to beat Hamilton on the wire. Emptied, he had retired immediately.
He also has times when he loses a bit of motivation. These are the moments that must be exploited
« Lewis has proven himself to be one of the best of all time, so the level is incredibly high, » said the German, who knows his racing intelligence and cunning in close quarters perfectly. You have to be at 110% all season. What he also masters very well is all politics, with the media and internally. He acts very skillfully. Even on the track, when you go into gray areas , it’s never really his fault, it’s always the opponent’s. » But now he is confronted with a pilot who does not ask himself any question wheel in wheel. The first skirmishes and touches occurred at the start of the season, in Imola (Italy) and Barcelona (Spain). Each time Hamilton, more cautious, gave in to the fierceness of his rival. Then he was less conciliatory.
From then on, each direct confrontation ended in an accident. At Silverstone (England), where he won. And in Monza (Italy), where they both gave up. Before these inevitable clashes and crashes, Rosberg had warned: « Max is starting to understand how good Lewis is. Everything has to be perfect to beat him. » With his usual arrogance, the Dutchman replied: « I don’t need Nico to realize how good Lewis is. » But as the former German world champion admits, whose friendship with Hamilton had not stood up to their rivalry, he remains a human being with his weaknesses: « He also has periods when he loses a bit of motivation. These are the moments that must be exploited. «
Verstappen erased his mistakes
However, Verstappen has never been so strong. He is playing his seventh season and has erased his mistakes. For many, Hamilton’s superior experience isn’t even a plus. « Max is consistent in his performance now, he has his head on his shoulders, » said Australian Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren). Even if the Dutchman, who no longer wants to participate in the Netflix series Drive to Survive because it creates « rivalries that do not really exist », showed some signs of nervousness and impatience Friday, Christian Horner, his boss at Red Bull, is not worried. « I do not see any change in him, assures the British leader. He is a young man, he rushes, he has nothing to lose. He does not have a title to defend, he is the challenger. »
These comments prove that he does not know me. I like to be in the lead, I hope to stay that way for a very long time
Hamilton, he wants to convince himself that his rival is not impervious to pressure. For this, he summons the past: « I remember how I fought for my first title [en 2007 contre Fernando Alonso chez McLaren] and I know the pressure that goes with it. It was difficult, intense. I was going through a lot of emotions, I didn’t always manage to the best. « Suggesting that Verstappen could be overtaken by the stake. It didn’t take much more to give the Red Bull driver a bite, who replied wryly. (« I’m so nervous I can hardly sleep! It’s so horrible to fight for the title! ») Before adding, more seriously: « These comments prove that he does not know me. I like to be in the lead, I hope to stay that way for a very long time. «
A recent poll made him the most popular driver ahead of Lando Norris and… Lewis Hamilton. If you have to find a weakness in it, it is this obstinacy in never wanting to give up an inch of its territory. « It’s part of his character, breathes Christian Horner. He’s a tough and offensive driver. And I don’t think he’s going to change. »