Lewis Hamilton says his 2021 scrap with Max Verstappen is not the hardest title battle of his racing career.
Verstappen is providing Hamilton with his biggest non-Mercedes threat since the turbo-hybrid era began in 2014 and with five rounds to go, the Dutchman now leads Hamilton by 12 points in the Drivers’ Championship.
It has been a season reflected upon so far as one of Formula 1’s greatest, with Hamilton and Verstappen battling regularly on-track and on several occasions already coming to blows in a major way.
But Hamilton said he had recently been thinking back to all of his past title battles, and this one with Verstappen does not top the list for difficulty.
“No, I wouldn’t say so,” he said when asked by Sky F1 if this is the hardest battle he has had for a title.
“I was just thinking earlier on today about all the championships I’ve fought in since I was 10.
“And there have been so many difficult moments and they are all very similar in their own way, but all unique in their own way at the same time.”
Mercedes came into this 2021 campaign with a W12 which was lacking to the Red Bull RB16B, although the seven-time double title winners have clawed their way firmly back into the conversation.
But Hamilton admits it has not at all been a perfect season, since points have been dropped in Mercedes’ imperfect moments.
“It could be better in the sense we’ve dropped points, we’ve not always been perfect,” was Hamilton’s summary of the battle so far.
“But you live and learn. I feel like things have happened the way they have for a reason – we’ve learned a lot.”
In the 2021 version of Verstappen, Hamilton has come up against a driver now far more mature and seemingly unshakeable under pressure.
Verstappen has also spoken of a need to maximise points rather than go for glory or nothing – an approach which is also important for Hamilton.
Evidence of that came in his thrilling battle with Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull in Turkey, as the Mexican racer at one stage fought back from the pit-lane entry to avoid losing position to Hamilton.
“You see me and [Sergio] Perez [in Turkey], I gave him so much space, maybe too much, but I finished the race, I got points and that’s what matters to me,” said Hamilton.
In situations like that one at the Turkish Grand Prix, he said moments like China 2007 helped.
Back then, Hamilton slid into the pit-lane gravel trap on worn-down tyres, losing the chance to secure the World Championship. But now these experiences make him a more complete driver, even though he admittedly still does not get everything right.
“In Turkey, for example, the pit-lane experience from 2007 helped me there,” Hamilton explained.
“There are so many experiences from the past, even way before I got to Formula 1, that come in unconsciously and help me to make the decisions I make.
“And I still don’t get everything right, but that’s a part of the process and I don’t get held up by that.
“I just know I can be better tomorrow.”