Max Verstappen has been staying busy with other interests to help keep his mind off any championship talk, with his first chance to win the title coming at this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver is eight points clear of Lewis Hamilton heading into the penultimate round, meaning he must finish in the top two to have any chance of winning the title. Second place will be enough if Hamilton fails to score, while second with the fastest lap point means Hamilton would need ninth place or higher. If Verstappen wins, Hamilton needs to be in the top six — or the top five if the Dutchman also scores the fastest lap — but none of that talk is getting through to the leader.
“(I’ll approach it) like I’ve done the whole season, there’s no change in that,” Verstappen said. “It’s a new track — first of all we need to learn the track and see how that goes in FP1. For the rest, I just focus on the weekend and try to be as competitive as I can be.
“By always being very neutral (I block out the noise), not read positive or negative things; in general not read too many things. Be busy with other things in life. I come to the weekend and I focus on F1 and I do my things off the track as well, preparing on the simulator. But then I’m also busy with other stuff — I think that helps a lot.”
While Verstappen acknowledges Hamilton’s added experience as making him a stronger opponent at this point of his career, he doesn’t think it will be a defining factor between the two.
“I think it’s natural, of course, when you’re at this stage of your career that you’re better prepared than you were in your first or second, when Lewis was fighting for his first title. That’s just a natural progression, and it’s very normal.
“I also feel much better prepared and more experienced than when I first came into F1. I don’t think it makes a big difference, otherwise it would’ve shown already throughout the season. As a driver you keep learning — even when you’re 30, 35, 40, as a driver you learn through experiences. Not that you become quicker but you maybe know or understand how to deal with certain situations or prepare yourself better.”
However, the 24-year-old doesn’t believe his experience of fighting against Hamilton this year has improved him significantly.
“I don’t think I’m necessarily a stronger driver now. I think last year from my feeling it was a very good season. But I think I’m always looking at myself — what I can do better? And you learn throughout every single season certain things you can do better that you try to apply to the next season.
“I think so far that has worked well. I’ve been really consistent — in general I’m pretty happy with the performances. But I will never be entirely happy, even when I win a race, I will look at things, what could have been better in general throughout the whole weekend. That’s how I always try to look ahead. Also for next year, what can be improved.
“Fighting against Lewis in general has been good for the sport — it’s a young guy against the established world champion. I think it’s very exciting. At the end of the day for me, it doesn’t matter if you’re fighting against someone my age or someone who’s a world champion. You know that both of them are great drivers, some of them might’ve had more luck in general to be in a good car for a longer time, but that doesn’t take away (that) they are a great driver. We always try to beat each other, of course, but I think so far it’s been a really cool season.”