Lewis Hamilton says he and Mercedes must continue improving to hold off the rising form of Max Verstappen and Red Bull, starting at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Verstappen had a lap time that was good enough for pole position deleted in Portugal as he exceeded track limits, and then lost an extra point for the fastest lap for the same error two corners from the finish. Hamilton also took advantage of a slight mistake to overtake Verstappen for what was second place at the time, while his other victory in Bahrain came after the Dutchman had to hand back the lead for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. As a result, the defending champion admits that the current standings could look very different.
“I wouldn’t say it’s surprising as I know what my team is capable of,” Hamilton said. “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. But I think in terms of overall output through the weekend, we’ve managed to do a better job.
“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. Naturally you’re always trying to raise the bar, make as few mistakes as possible. They’ve been there but I’m grateful for them, as they make you stronger when you learn from them.”
Hamilton hopes his experience of championship battles will prove to be an advantage over Verstappen, who is trying to mount his first serious title bid with Red Bull.
“You’re seeing the closest battle we’ve seen for some time. You’re seeing Max performing exceptionally well and 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. I definitely think experience will help us in terms of how we approach weekends and how we battle back from tough weekends.
“But, you still have to do the job — minimal mistakes. 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.”