Max: Red Bull/Merc conflict increased Hamilton rivalry

Jamie Woodhouse
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton share the podium. Abu Dhabi, December 2021.

Max Verstappen feels the ongoing tension between Mercedes and Red Bull made his rivalry with Lewis Hamilton look bigger than it was.

Verstappen and Hamilton delivered an all-time classic title battle in 2021, although it was not one that came and went without controversial moments.

Their collisions at Silverstone and Monza in particular proved major flashpoints but, as much as both drivers were prone to some on-track tension, the clashes off it between Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff and Red Bull’s Christian Horner were just as, if not more, fiery.

And Verstappen believes these dramas blew his rivalry with Hamilton out of proportion.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen side by side at the Emilia Romagna GP. April 2021.

“I think the conflict between Mercedes and Red Bull played a big role in the fight between me and Lewis, as well as all the events that happened during the championship,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“That exacerbated the confrontation on track.”

Asked if he ever had fears over his safety, with those crashes at Silverstone and Monza mentioned as examples, Verstappen replied: “No, things don’t work out if you are afraid. I never thought about the risk of getting hurt. I was focused on winning.”

The new regulations for 2022 have served to shake up the order, so while Verstappen still has the pace to be a title contender in the Red Bull RB18, Hamilton has found himself comfortably adrift of the leading pace with Ferrari replacing Mercedes in the battle at the top.

That has meant that rather than fighting Hamilton, now it is Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc with whom Verstappen has gone wheel-to-wheel in two of the opening three rounds for the win.

Having risen through the karting ranks together, Verstappen is enjoying battling a familiar rival in Leclerc, all of their duels so far providing exciting, clean racing.

He also likes the fact Leclerc’s Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz is now in a leading car, having come through the Red Bull junior ranks with Verstappen and his Toro Rosso team-mate in 2015, the debut Formula 1 season for both drivers.

 

“I find it quite natural to face the same drivers with whom I raced as a kid,” said Verstappen.

“In particular, in my case and that of Charles, it is nice that we are two young people who fight for victories.

“So far we have had some good battles. And I’m happy to see my friend Carlos Sainz in such a competitive Ferrari, after having debuted together in 2015 with Toro Rosso.”

 

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