The 2021 season has delivered so far, the closest battle for the top spot of the championship in years. In each of the three races to have been held, there have been wheel to wheel battles between the top two championship’s contenders — Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. As it stands, the Briton is leading with an eight points margin to the Dutchman, with two wins to one.
In Portimao, the seven times world champion took a commanding win by overtaking both his teammate and his most direct competitor, while Verstappen — despite a brilliant move at the restart to overtake Hamilton — lost the pole position and the fastest lap of the race by going wide, exceeding the track limits, which led to having his time deleted.
For the man from Stevenage, Verstappen is driving at an exceptional level, and has a car capable of winning and an experienced team, hence the need to keep delivering at a high level if they want to stay in the lead.
“You’re seeing the closest battle we’ve seen for some time”
“You’re seeing Max performing exceptionally well and look, he has a championship winning car, no doubt and a championship winning team who can really pull off the job this year if we don’t do our job.”
Hamilton asserted how the experience both he and his team has gathered will come to help them in their way to approach difficult weekends, but insisted on the necessity to make the least possible mistakes.
“I definitely think experience will help us in terms of how we approach weekends and how we battle back from tough weekends.”
“I think from my side, I would like to think experience will help but you still have to do the job, minimal mistakes.”
The Briton also considered reliability as a decisive factor, and one they should focus on as well.
“Reliability is going to be a big deal this year, and as you’ve seen, even these fastest lap extra points are going to be significant by the end of the year.”
Remembering the team’s testing woes, Hamilton asserted that despite being on the back foot from a performance point of view, Mercedes managed to maximise their results by executing their race operations better than their rivals.
“Definitely the first test didn’t look great and at the first race we were still up there but you could see the deficit from us to the Red Bulls ” he said.
“But I think in terms of overall output through the weekend, we’ve managed to do a better job.”
However, the 36-years old admitted they couldn’t keep banking on their competitors’ mistakes, as they must work to make their car a better package.
“We really can’t continue to rely on mistakes from others, we’ve got to get our heads down and continue to work.”
“We’ve got a good package but it does have its weak areas that we need to continue to work on. In terms of my side, I’m really happy with the output.”
Hamilton stated how instructing the mistakes he made were, saying that he’ll keep trying to raise the bar.
“Naturally you’re always trying to raise the bar, make as few mistakes as possible but they’ve been there but I’m grateful for them as they make you stronger when you learn from them.”
On another topic, the British champion got asked about his relationship with his teammate Valtteri Bottas, and Hamilton praised the Finn as an amazing one. For him, his pairing with Bottas is the most prolific in terms of results and the balance in the team’s dynamic.
“If I’m really honest I’ve not given it a lot of thought,” said Hamilton. “But from what I’ve experienced from the relationship that I have, of course, with Valtteri I think he’s been an amazing team mate, as I’ve always said.”
“If I’m really honest I feel we have the best line-up currently in terms of deliverables, in terms of the equilibrium that’s within our team and the general knowledge, in terms of moving our car forwards.”
For Hamilton, the inevitability of change should not cloud the fact that his pairing with Bottas has been very beneficial for Mercedes, and should continue to be so in the near future.
“At some stage it’s going to shift, it’s going to change. I’m not going to be here forever, Valtteri won’t be here forever. But right now I think we’ve delivered time and time again over the years and we continue to.”
“Valtteri just qualified on pole in the last race. It's only the fourth race. I think people need to give him a break and just let him focus on doing what he’s doing.”
Asked about the how things were between his young fellow countryman Russell and himself, Hamilton said Russell’s performance had no negative effect on their relationship. He pointed out the supportive message he sent to the Williams driver on social media following his collision with Bottas at Imola.
“Our relationship is 100% still intact. It’s exactly the same. We messaged after his incident in Imola and I hope you can see from the message I’ve put [out], I’m still supportive of him.”
“He’s going through his own journey but he’s a great guy, he did a great job when he came to the team and he will continue to do a good job so no issues.”