Pre-match verbal jousting between Hamilton and Verstappen
The Briton started hostilities at a press conference on Thursday, in reference to their collision during the previous round, for which the Dutchman was deemed « mainly responsible » by the race marshals, receiving three penalty places on the starting grid this week-end.
“I know what it’s like to fight for your first world title. For me, this is the tenth time (in fifteen seasons, editor’s note). I know the pressure and the experiences that go with it, so I can understand ”, slipped the seven-time world champion, always very late in the exercise.
And the Mercedes driver continued: “The important thing is to continue to race hard but cleanly. I have no doubt that we will both be professionals and learn from the past ”.
Verstappen’s response came a little later, sarcastically: “I’m terribly nervous, barely sleeping. It’s so horrible to fight for the title. I hate that. »
“These comments show that he doesn’t know me, which is normal, I don’t really know him either. The important thing is to focus on myself and have fun at the forefront, which I hope to do for a long time to come, ”said the Red Bull driver, who has been in F1 for seven years.
As the Dutchman enters the 15th of 22 round this season with a five-point lead in the World Championship, he could leave Russia a little behind his British rival.
Indeed, his penalty of three places would be aggravated if he and Red Bull decided to change his engine this weekend, which is still being considered. « It’s not ideal, that’s for sure, but nothing is lost, that’s how I see it, » says Verstappen. « In the championship, there are a lot of races left and the gap is small. »
In addition, Mercedes has been unbeaten in Sochi since 2014: Hamilton has won four times, leaving the other three victories to his teammates Nico Rosberg (2016) then Valtteri Bottas (2017 and 2020).
Last year, however, his Dutch rival gave Red Bull their first Russian podium (a second place) and this season is « different », admits the Briton. Our competitors are much closer, if not in front, and it could rain on certain days, ”particularly in qualifying on Saturday, which leveled out performance and made mistakes easier.
Bottas for obstacle?
No worries, however, for Hamilton’s neck, which was sore after being hit on the top of the helmet by the Verstappen wheel in Italy ten days ago. Yoga and the care of his physiotherapist Angela Cullen fixed the problem, says the Mercedes driver.
Nor is his trip to New York to attend the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art charity gala last week. We know that the 36-year-old driver’s infidelities in F1 are an ingredient of his success.
And if the main obstacle on his way was finally his teammate Bottas, in whom Sochi is particularly successful (with a pole position, five podiums including two victories, and an almost success in 2018, before he is ordered to leave his leader s’ impose)?
After a convincing GP in Italy (author of pole position but 19th on the grid because of a penalty, he finished third), the Finn will be keen to continue. And is his dedication to Mercedes still the same knowing he will be leaving the team next season? “At the moment, Lewis has better title chances,” said Bottas, third in the championship more than 80 points behind.
“There might be times when I have to sacrifice myself for the team. Given the current situation, I will, he promises, because we have to make sure we win both titles, not just the constructors ‘title but also the drivers’ title. «