Revealed: The ‘mind games’ played Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in epic F1 duel

Oliver Harden
Max Verstappen walks away from the wreckage after his spectacular Monza 2021 crash with Lewis Hamilton

Max Verstappen walks away from the wreckage after his spectacular Monza 2021 crash with Lewis Hamilton

Bradley Scanes, Max Verstappen’s ex-performance coach, has lifted the lid on the mind games between the Red Bull driver and Lewis Hamilton during the epic F1 2021 season.

Verstappen and Mercedes rival Hamilton played out one of the most titanic title battles in F1 history in 2021, with the Red Bull star clinching his maiden World Championship in highly controversial circumstances at the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

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Verstappen’s victory came after he arrived at the title decider level on points with Hamilton, with the pair inseparable for much of that season – memorably making contact at Silverstone and Monza along the way.

Scanes was inside Verstappen’s camp throughout 2021 and, in an appearance on the Sky F1 podcast, revealed the lengths both drivers would go to in order to gain a crucial psychological advantage – including making each other wait in the cooldown room at the end of a race.

Asked how he helped keep Verstappen’s mind focused, he said: “I think there’s a couple of ways to look at that.

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“If you’re doing your job well, you don’t need to change because you’re doing this week in, week out, and certainly the way that we approached every race is exactly like that.

“We approached the races in the same way that year as we did last year: we want to win every race.

“Yes, we had to obviously look at certain tracks where we were going to struggle and say, ‘Our win this week is second place’, so you just changed the end outcome of the goal there.

“As someone working in sport, I consider myself extremely lucky to be a part of that season.

“We just witnessed two of the best go at it, head to head, neck and neck. You don’t often get that opportunity.

“And it’s the little things they would try and do to get one over each other. In the cooldown room after a race, who could be the longest to get ready and take the most time?

“It’s those little mind games that the those two were playing with each other.”

Asked if the mind games between Verstappen and Hamilton were part of a deliberate strategy to gain the upper hand, Scanes responded: “Not really, no. It happens, doesn’t it?

“There were often a few conversations on race strategy and that sort of thing, but little things like that? They just seem to come. You see it in the very best when you’re in a title fight, those little things do come.

“We still approached every race in the same way. We just kept our habits, kept a routine.

“I think that’s so important because as soon as you start changing things, you start to change the dynamic of the thought processes and the performance KPIs.

“I think the only thing we changed towards the end was the travel and logistics a little bit, so rather than heading home and changing time zones and having multiple flights we ended up staying out and taking some time, taking some days off to completely remove ourselves from what F1 was, what travel was, just to rest because it was tense.

“It was super, super tense. You could feel it in the paddock, you could feel it everywhere.

“It was almost a hatred building between Red Bull and Mercedes. You’d walk past them in the paddock and it was like: ‘Grrrr…’

“But amazing. Amazing for sport.”

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