Lewis Hamilton says he empathizes with Max Verstappen as his title rival deals with the increasing pressure of his first championship fight at a young age.
Verstappen leads the drivers’ championship by five points from Hamilton, and the pair have had multiple on-track incidents this year including a collision that took both out of the last race in Italy. The 23-year-old Verstappen was given a three-place grid penalty for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix as a result of that clash, but Hamilton — who was 22 in his rookie year fighting for a title — says he understands the pressure he is under.
“Naturally, we are battling for a championship,” Hamilton said. “I remember what it was like battling for my first championship and obviously I’m fighting something like my 10th battle. I remember what it was like and the pressure and experiences that you go with, so I empathize with that. I think what is important is that we continue to race hard, but fair. I have no doubts that we will both be professional and learn from the past.
“I never expect a driver to back down. That’s not how I approach racing with any drivers. I think ultimately we all have to be smart and know there is a time you’re not going to make a corner but it’s all about making sure you live to fight at the next corner. That’s really just through experience you find that balance and you know it’s not all won on one corner, so there will be other opportunities.
“I know what it’s like having the fight for your first championship and your eagerness — you go through lots of different experiences and emotions during that time. So as I said, I do believe that we will continue to get stronger and I’m hopeful that we won’t have any more incidents through the year.”
Seven-time world champion Hamilton says the pressure will only be increasing for Verstappen as the title fight intensifies the closer to the end of the season it gets.
“Obviously he won’t admit to it and I’m not going to make an assumption but I’m just saying I remember what it was like when I had my first one and it definitely mounted up. It was difficult, it was intense — I was going through a lot of different emotions. I didn’t always handle it the best and that’s to be expected.
“You’re working in a big team, there’s a lot of self-expectation and pressure because the desire to win is huge. So I’m just saying I empathize and I understand that, but I know that we will continue to grow from this.
“It’s a lot easier to handle now than my first one! I’ve been here a long time so it’s much, much easier to deal with it now than of course in my first year. I was very young and I didn’t have the tools to handle the sort of pressures that were being put on me, so it’s a lot different for me.”