Heading into this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Max Verstappen leads the Formula One standings for the first time in his career. The 23-year-old Dutchman has finished in the top 2 in the first five races of the season and holds a 4-point lead over Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
Mind games can feature quite heavily in various sports as athletes try to get under the skin of their opponents. However, Verstappen admits he has absolutely no interest in doing it with Hamilton. The Red Bull driver believes they’ve got really good respect for each other.
"If they come - I can't be bothered by it, to be honest, mind games," Verstappen said. "I think Lewis said after the race he doesn't want to play those things. So we just have to focus on what we have to do on the track anyway, which I think we do, and that's also the best.
"Whatever is said in here [in the press conference], sometimes, at the end of the day, it can be a bit emotional sometimes as well after a race or before a race. It also sometimes depends on how you get the question asked.
"So it's alright. I think Lewis and I, we really respect each other, and I think that's really important."
Despite Verstappen’s comfortable victory at Monaco, combined with Hamilton’s nightmare weekend, the 12-time Grand Prix winner is sure that Mercedes still hold an advantage on normal tracks.
"I do still think they are, on normal tracks, ahead of us," he said. "But I think for us so far this season, we've had a great start compared to the other seasons.
"We just need to keep it up, we need to keep improving, we need to bring new bits to the car all the time to try and improve it. Then I think we have a very good shot at it.
"But so far, of course to be leading the championship is very positive."
As for the challenge of the Baku circuit, Verstappen admits it’s tricky to find the trade-off with a massive long straight, heavy braking zones and slow speed sections on a low-grip surface.
“It’s never easy around here because of the long straight,” he said. “It puts you into a window where you run a bit less downforce for the rest of the track. But it makes it very interesting, big braking zones, it’s quite slippery always around here.”
On Red Bull's flexi rear wing, Verstappen says other teams are trying to slow them down because they've done such a good job so far in 2021.
"I can understand of course other people looking into things when we are doing a good job with the car this season," Verstappen told Sky Sports F1. "I can understand people complaining... but it's all within the rules so far. There's nothing wrong with it."
"Of course, they try to slow us down," he added.