Lewis Hamilton on approach vs Max Verstappen and why he empathises with F1 rival over title 'pressure'
Lewis Hamilton addresses Max Verstappen crash, his approach going forward and why the pressure of a first title fight may well be getting to his young rival; But Verstappen hits back; Watch Russian GP live only on Sky Sports F1 this weekend
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 24/09/21 6:16am
Lewis Hamilton has stressed the need for himself and Max Verstappen to "learn from the past" and avoid more collisions as the Englishman opened up about his approach, while also admitting that he wonders whether his rival is racing differently because of the "pressure" of a first title fight.
Verstappen later hit back that Hamilton "doesn't know me" after being told of the world champion's comments about handling the stress as the pair clashed - off-track this time - on Thursday ahead of the Russian GP.
Hamilton and Verstappen are gearing up for another battle this weekend as the championship run-in intensifies, and spoke to the media eleven days on from their latest crash at Monza - where the Red Bull car dramatically ended up on top of the Mercedes in the gravel.
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With Verstappen taking a three-place grid penalty this weekend, the title rivals have now each been penalised for collisions this season.
Hamilton told Sky F1 that the penalty was "unlikely" to be a deterrent for Verstappen but, eager to avoid a repeat, said: "Ultimately we all have to be smart, and know that there is a time you are not going to make the corner.
"It's all about that you get to live to fight another day for the next corner. Naturally through experience you find that it's not all won in one corner. I'm hopeful we won't have any more incidents through the year."
But while Hamilton said that he has "no doubts that we will both be professional and learn from the past", he admitted he is not expecting Verstappen to suddenly give way in wheel-to-wheel battles.
"He's never done it in the past so I don't expect it to happen," Hamilton told Craig Slater. "And I think that's the way I will approach things, not expecting it, and just try to create the space that's needed.
"I'm sure he will and we will continue to learn."
Hamilton then added: "I know what it's like fighting for your first championship, there's a lot going on and there's a lot riding on it also."
Hamilton 'empathises' with Verstappen | Max: He doesn't know me
While it is 23-year-old Verstappen's seventh F1 season, it is his first where he is a genuine contender for the championship, which he is currently leading by five points. Hamilton, who was 22 when he first battled for the title as a rookie in 2007, said he empathised with Verstappen and hinted that he was racing differently wheel-to-wheel because of the title pressure.
"I know the pressure that comes with it and the experiences that go with it," Hamilton explained. "Your eagerness... you go through lots of different experiences and emotions during that time."
He continued: "He won't admit to it and I'm not going to make an assumption, I'm just saying that I remember what it was like when I had my first one and it 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. That's to be expected, you know, it's a lot of pressure when you are working in a big team, there's a lot of self expectation and the desire to win is huge. I empathise and understand that. I know we will continue to grow from this."
Hamilton, in his 15th F1 season and looking for a record-breaking eighth crown, said that the pressure was "a lot easier to handle now".
"I've been here a long time, so it's that much easier to deal with," he said. "My first year, I was very young and didn't have the tools to handle the sort of pressure that was put on me. it's a lot different for me [now]".
Told about Hamilton's comments, Verstappen joked: "I'm so nervous I can barely sleep! It's so horrible to fight for a title, I really hate it..."
The championship leader then hit back at his rival.
"If someone knows me, I think I'm very relaxed about all those things and I really can't be bothered, I'm very chilled," he said. "It's the best feeling ever to have a great car where you can go into every weekend and you can fight for the win. It doesn't matter if you're just leading a championship or not.
"Those comments just show that he really doesn't know me. Which is fine, I also don't need to know him, how he is fully. I just focus on myself, I really enjoy it out there at the front and hopefully we can do that for a really long time."
Hamilton on condition and Russian GP hopes
In the frightening collision at the Italian GP, Verstappen's car not only ended up on top of Hamilton's but also made contact with his helmet, part of the rear wheel of the Red Bull pushing Hamilton's head forward.
Hamilton said he was in pain after the race but "felt great" ahead of this weekend's event in Sochi, after having physio and acupuncture sessions on his neck.
"I feel really fortunate," said Hamilton. " I felt very grateful on Monday not to feel any worse.
"We did a lot of acupuncture, a lot of physio and I think it was lucky rather than the weight landing on top of my head, it pushed it forward so it just stretched all my muscles. I worked on those and was able to get back training mid-week."
After both he and Verstappen crashed out in Monza, Hamilton remains five points behind his rival in the standings but can take back the title lead at a track Mercedes have won every year since 2014.
"It's very, very important, as important as it can be," admitted Hamilton, looking to make the most of Verstappen's penalty.