Formula 1 world champion lewis hamilton played the wise man in china, but he didn’t want any doubts about his ambition.
First the british mercedes driver spoke about red-bull body spur max verstappen on thursday in shanghai in a downright mild manner. Then, looking back at his defeats by ferrari’s perennial rival sebastian vettel in australia and bahrain, he made it clear: he was not unhappy about it, "I’m hungry". He would prefer to win the remaining 19 races.
The four-time champion was less aggressive in the verstappen case. The dutch talent had collided with the british driver in a daring overtaking maneuver shortly after the start in bahrain last sunday and was forced to retire shortly afterwards. Hamilton called the oranje driver a "dickhead" after the race.
Four days later, he approached his accident opponent in the driver’s camp. "I met him, shook his hand and said i was sorry for him in the last race, regardless of whether it was my fault or his," he said. "It is always important to show respect," he added. Whether verstappen had said anything in response, hamilton could not say.
"I have great respect for max. He has great potential to be world champion one day," the 33-year-old said of verstappen, 13 years his junior. "I was in the same position as him when i was young. It’s a learning process to deal with the pressure of being on a top team."
Actually, verstappen had not wanted to talk to hamilton about the incident in bahrain. "It depends on whether it’s really necessary," he had said earlier at the official press conference for the china race. "I don’t think i did anything wrong."In china he now explained that it is always easy to "blame the younger pilot".
In sporting terms, hamilton’s focus is less on verstappen. In the first two races of the year, the briton had to watch vettel take the victories. In australia, he had given away success due to a strategic error, in bahrain he had been moved back five places in the starting grid due to a gearbox change, but still made it to third place.
With a 17-point gap, hamilton is second behind vettel (50 points) ahead of the china grand prix, which he has already won five times. "It’s tighter this year than last year," he said. "There is still a long, long way to go," vettel also says. But: "mercedes is still the favorite."