Hamilton fell behind in the standings after a poor round in Monaco and has since been unable to claw back the lead of the standings from Verstappen over the past four races.
The Dutchman pulled out an 18 point lead over the seven-time world champion at the Styrian Grand Prix and is keen to do the same again at the same circuit this weekend for round nine, the Austrian Grand Prix.
The two-time world champion was partnered alongside Hamilton as his team-mate back at McLaren in 2007, before the Briton’s dominance with Mercedes during the hybrid era.
“It is very interesting from the outside to follow and watch,” the Alpine driver said. “At least we don’t have like previous years that it was Lewis against Lewis and sometimes Valtteri [Bottas], but not often.
“So at the moment we have a more interesting championship so we can follow with a little more adrenaline until Abu Dhabi. That’s a good thing.
“Of course it’s just nice in general to see a lot of fans back; I think everyone missed that a lot. It just creates an atmosphere that we’re all looking forward to this weekend.”
He added: “That weekend was very enjoyable but it’s not a guarantee that it will happen again, you know? We have to make sure that now with the softer compounds we again have a good car with a good balance and of course, people learn from their mistakes last week.”
In the other camp, Hamilton was clear to state Mercedes were still in the “fight” for the title this season but admitted Red Bull have a clear advantage.
“They’ve done a great job in these last four races,” admitted Hamilton, in the press conference on Thursday.
“It’s been really difficult for us from Monaco, which obviously was a bit of a disaster,” he continued, “and then the same for Baku, better at France and better last weekend but they have taken a step ahead of us and so we are just working as hard as we can to see if there’s a way we can close that gap.
“But we’re not even halfway through the season so I am still fighting and chasing for this title.”
Max Verstappen extended his lead over Lewis Hamilton in the driver’s standings to 18 points after victory at the Styrian Grand Prix. The Dutchman looked untouchable in Austria after an electric start from pole position in a fairly uneventful race at the Red Bull Ring.
Verstappen crossed the line in Austria with a mighty +35.743-second lead over Hamilton, despite the Briton trying his hardest to find a way to close the gap at the Red Bull Ring.
“I mean, you never know of course how it’s gonna end up,” said Verstappen, when asked if it felt like an easy victory.
“But straightaway I felt good balance in the car, and it was good to manage the tyres basically from the start.
“Felt like to the end I had a little bit of tyres left, of course, they pitted one lap earlier than us, so we reacted to that and then we just kept on going, trying to hit our lap times, it worked really well for us.”
Hamilton and Mercedes looked to bounce back in France but, despite a vast improvement from the previous two races, a clever strategy call from Red Bull saw Verstappen extend his lead at the top of the standings to 12 points heading into two rounds at Austria.
And now with an 18 point lead, the Dutchman is keen to keep up the momentum.
He said: “Yeah, it’s looking really good, so we just have to keep on going, keep pushing really hard and then I’m confident that we can do a very good job again.”
“Firstly well done to Max, he did, I mean, they’ve been so fast this weekend, I’ve been giving it absolutely everything, but yeah, just wasn’t the greatest of sessions,” he said.
“Generally they’ve had a quarter of a second on us all weekend, and I think we’ve managed to eek closer in qualifying but in race pace yesterday though .45s ahead of us, most of the time, so it’ll be interesting to see whether or not we can manage it.
“I don’t think we have real pace to overtake them, that’s for sure. But might just be able to keep up.
“We’ll be giving it everything, obviously, but I’m just talking about pure pace, but maybe tomorrow, We’ll be surprised, maybe it rains.”
Lewis Hamilton’s ‘natural ability is fantastic’ says Button
Styrian Grand Prix: Summary
Max Verstappen starts on pole, with Hamilton second
Three-place grid penalty relegates Valtteri Bottas from second to fifth
Lando Norris’ strong qualifying puts him on Row 2
Verstappen leads Drivers’ Championship by 12 points from Hamilton
Red Bull leads Constructors’ Championship by 37 points from Mercedes
Max Verstappen will start from pole position at the Styrian Grand Prix (Image: GETTY)
Styrian Grand Prix: Live Race Updates
Lap 26: Big moment for Lewis Hamilton, who very nearly lost the back end of his Mercedes as he exited Turn 5. It shows just how hard the seven-time world champ is pushing to keep pace with Verstappen, who is now five seconds up the road. It’s looking like Red Bull have things well under control at this stage in proceedings. But, don’t forget, it all looked comfortable for Verstappen in Baku… until it wasn’t.
Lap 20: Both Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton have been on the radio complaining about handling, but it’s the Red Bull man who holds the advantage after 20 laps of this 71-lap Grand Prix. He leads by four and a half seconds over the world champion, with the window for pit stops about to open. Red Bull have had the edge in strategy and pit work in recent races, but Mercedes need something special here to bring Hamilton into striking distance. The next few laps could be fascinating…
Running order after 20 laps:
Lap 13: Norris has been passed twice. First, Sergio Perez blew past him with ease, then Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas followed suit. But any worries about the McLaren man’s car appear unfounded at this point. It seems he’s just trying to run a sensible early pace to get as much out of his tyres as possible and potentially go long in his first stint. Up front, Verstappen is holding his lead, with the Red Bull man around 2.8 seconds clear of Hamilton, who is holding steady in second.
Lap 8: Lando Norris is reporting that there’s a lot of debris on the track, and has asked his team to keep an eye on his tyre pressures to make sure he hasn’t picked up a puncture. The opening lap shenanigans in the midfield have caused some shards of wing to be left on the track. Norris’ team-mate Daniel Ricciardo suffered a loss of power and has dropped down the pack.
Lap 4: Lewis Hamilton reported that “something heavy” hit his car. Could that have been a piece of Verstappen’s car? Or perhaps debris from the opening lap? Watch this space. Charles Leclerc faces a mountainous task in Austria after damaging his front wing on the first lap. He’s going to have to battle his way through the field. He’s pitted and changed his wing and is now languishing back in 18th.
Lap 1: Verstappen gets away cleanly and leads, with Hamilton slotting into second. Sergio Perez has started superbly and squeezed past Lando Norris, who later retook the Red Bull to secure third. Pierre Gasly’s race is likely, however, after suffered a puncture and suspension damage to his rear-left.
1:55pm:We’re just five minutes from the start, and things could get VERY interesting on the first lap. Not only do we have the battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, who will duel it out for the apex in Turn 1, we also have the prospect of a racy Lando Norris looking to pull a fast one from third on the grid.
Speaking to Sky Sports F1, even his face mask couldn’t hide Lando’s grin when he was asked about going for it and taking the fight to the front two in the first few corners. Make no mistake, the McLaren man is going to try to throw the cat among the pigeons from the start.
The cars are just about ready to embark on their warm-up lap, then it’ll be lights out in Austria!
Styrian Grand Prix: Starting Grid
1. Max Verstappen | 2. Lewis Hamilton
3. Lando Norris | 4. Sergio Perez
5. Valtteri Bottas* | 6. Pierre Gasly
7. Charles Leclerc | 8. Fernando Alonso
9. Lance Stroll | 10. George Russell
11. Yuki Tsunoda** | 12. Carlos Sainz
13. Daniel Ricciardo | 14. Sebastian Vettel
15. Antonio Giovinazzi | 16. Nicholas Latifi
17. Esteban Ocon | 18. Kimi Raikkonen
19. Mick Schumacher | 20. Nikita Mazepin
*Bottas penalised three grid places for “dangerous driving” during Friday’s free practice. **Tsunoda penalised three grid places for blocking during Saturday’s qualifying session.
The gripping title fight between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton continues in Austria, with Red Bull looking strong at their home circuit this weekend.
Verstappen took pole position in Saturday’s qualifying session, with Hamilton only good enough for third-quickest.
But the Brit received an unexpected bonus with the three-place grid penalty meted out to teammate Valtteri Bottas, who span in the pit lane during free practice earlier in the weekend.
It meant the Finn was demoted from second on the grid to fifth, as Hamilton was bumped up from Row 2 to the front row, alongside title rival Verstappen.
It means the scene is perfectly set for a thrilling race at the short, technical Red Bull Ring, where passing opportunities are available around the relatively short lap in Austria.
The race gets underway at 2:00pm, and we’ll bring you regular updates throughout the Grand Prix. Will there be another twist in the title race, or can Red Bull and Verstappen extend their lead over Hamilton and Mercedes in the Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships, respectively? We’ll find out this afternoon!
Championship leader Max Verstappen says he knows it won’t be ‘easy’ to beat Lewis Hamilton after qualifying for the Styrian Grand Prix, despite snatching pole position at the Red Bull Ring, but admits it’s nice to be on top at the team’s home circuit.
The Dutchman set a blistering time of 1:03.841s around the Red Bull Ring, two tenths faster than Valtteri Bottas who set a 1:04.035s with Hamilton behind on a 1:04.067.
The Mercedes driver was quick out of the pit at the start of Q3, an unusual move for a driver in his position, but only mustered a third fastest time, behind his team-mate Bottas, who will drop to fifth after receiving a penalty in practice.
And Verstappen was pleased with his performance, with his team-mate Sergio Perez starting fourth behind Lando Norris in third.
“It’s been a very good weekend, I think, again in qualifying, of course, the car was was really good to drive,” said Verstappen.
“It was not easy to deal with the traffic in the last few corners to get a clean run but I think that first lap in Q3 was good enough at the end.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says it’s too early in the season to “sacrifice” Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas as they battle Red Bull for the Drivers’ and Constructors titles this season. However, the Austrian was unable to rule out the possibility of it happening in the future.
Bottas has had a torrid start to his 2021 season. The Finn has so far been unable to finish higher than third in a race, with two DNFs to his name, and currently sits 72 points behind championship leader Max Verstappen.
However, Bottas remains adamant his bad start bears no reflection on any potential delays in his contract talks, and it’s currently all business as usual at Mercedes.
But it looks like the Finn’s championship-winning chances have slipped away from him, with Bottas sitting fifth in the standings as the title battle heats up between Hamilton and Verstappen up front.
Despite this, Mercedes boss Wolff said it was too early in the season to panic and, when asked if a driver – essentially Bottas – could be sacrificed in the title fight, he told Sky Sports F1, “No, I think it’s much too early.”
Yet, ahead of the Styrian Grand Prix, Hamilton shocked the media by saying there was no need to switch up his team-mate next season with rumours swirling.
He said: “We have begun discussions, and, not a lot to say – just we have had discussions and things are positive so… and yes, Valtteri is my team-mate now, and both of us have had ups and downs in our careers, but as I said he is a fantastic team-mate and I don’t necessarily think that needs to change.”
And Wolff added that team-mate talk wasn’t on the cards during discussions.
Lewis Hamilton believes there is no need to switch up his team-mate next season as speculation continues ahead of the Styrian Grand Prix. The seven-time world champion also admitted contract discussions with Mercedes have begun for next season and beyond.
Rumours have been swirling regarding both Hamilton’s contract and who might partner him at the team next season, with many suggesting Valtteri Bottas’ time is up at Mercedes and that George Russell is set to replace the Finn.
Fuel was added to the fire to the end of last season, as Russell stepped in for Hamilton, who was recovering from COVID-19, during the penultimate race of 2020.
On loan from Williams, the Mercedes junior driver qualified second fastest just behind Bottas, and managed to sweep past the Finn on the opening lap.
He was on course to win on debut but, due to a pitstop blunder and a puncture, he had to settle with P9. But his form sent ripples throughout the paddock.
With such a performance, many thought Russell would be the natural fit at Mercedes, with Bottas struggling for pace, with some suggesting the Finn had already been told of the switch this season.
The 31-year-old dismissed any suggestions, with Williams’ Russell explaining ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix he had yet to even open any conversations with teams.
Hamilton’s contract, along with Russell and Bottas, comes to an end this year, with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff hoping to sign Hamilton on a ‘multi-year deal,’ however, the Briton remained coy about the details.
“We have begun discussions, and, not a lot to say – just we have had discussions and things are positive so… and yes, Valtteri is my team-mate now, and both of us have had ups and downs in our careers, but as I said he is a fantastic team-mate and I don’t necessarily think that needs to change.”
When pushed by Tom Clarkson in the FIA’s F1 press conference on Thursday for a word on Russell as a viable option, Hamilton replied “Doing what?”
Clarkson responded: “Being your team-mate?”
“Well, he’s not my team-mate currently, so I don’t need to say anything on that,” concluded the Brit.
Hamilton is looking to claw back the lead of the championship this weekend, with Max Verstappen leading the way by 12 points.
And despite bouncing back from two tough weekends in Monaco and Baku, the 36-year-old admitted they still have a lot of work to do at Mercedes.
“I think we can always make improvements for sure, we will continue to work as a team. I think we’ve worked well as a team for many years,” concluded Hamilton.
“I think Valtteri [Bottas] has been the best team-mate overall, and when I say team-mate, it’s not just about driver performance, it’s about team morale, it’s about how you work in the team-mate environment.
“We’ll continue to improve and work on our communication and hopefully do better and move forwards.”
Former world champion Jenson Button believes we are seeing the ‘best Lewis Hamilton‘ we’ve ever seen throughout his time in Formula One, adding that it’s been good to see him speaking ‘from the heart’.
Button partnered Hamilton at McLaren in 2010, fresh off the back of winning the title the season before, creating what was dubbed as an all-British ‘super team’.
Hamilton had won just one world title at the time, and Button managed to outscore Hamilton over the course of their three seasons together as team-mates at the Working-based team.
Yet this season, Button says he’s seen a huge change in his former team-mate, who is looking to become statistically the most successful driver in Formula One.
“From his time from McLaren to Mercedes he changed, yes, but this year is completely different,” Button exclusively told Express Sport.
“You walk in the paddock high-fiving people and calling them by their name and it’s like, where have you been this winter?”
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton had to settle for second place after Max Verstappen triamphed in Paul Ricard to extend his lead at the top of the driver standings by 12 points over the Briton.
Hamilton had initially swept past the Dutchman after he locked up his tyres going into turn two, but found himself behind the 23-year-old during the first pit stop window.
Red Bull blinked first and pitted Verstappen before Mercedes could try and perform the undercut, with Hamilton diving in a lap later – yet the Dutchman produced a blistering out-lap, with the seven-time world champion rejoining behind the championship leader.
Mercedes were then caught napping after Red Bull took the bold approach to pit Verstappen for a second time in France, which ultimately paid off.
Verstappen emerged in fourth, but on fresher tyres carved his way up the pack, before lunging past Hamilton on the penultimate lap, denying the reining champion the win, and the chance to take back the lead of the standings.