Max Verstappen warns he could have been more aggressive in Lewis Hamilton battle

Jamie Woodhouse
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, on the podium. Australia, April 2023.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, stand together on the podium. Australia, April 2023.

Max Verstappen said he did not fight Lewis Hamilton as hard as he could have at the start of the Australian GP, knowing the strength of the car he had at his disposal.

Verstappen started from pole at Albert Park but found himself being passed by the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap.

More often that not, wheel-to-wheel combat between Verstappen and Hamilton at the front leads to contact, though this time it did not, even if Verstappen complained over the radio at the time that Hamilton had pushed him off the track.

The stewards did not agree, but ultimately it did not matter as the untimely appearance of the afternoon’s first red flags severely dented Russell’s victory chances, before a power unit failure then put the final nail in the coffin.

Verstappen meanwhile went on to breeze past Hamilton with DRS and win his first Australian Grand Prix, with Hamilton claiming P2.

And as Verstappen was joined by Hamilton and P3 finisher Fernando Alonso for the post-race press conference, Verstappen was asked if he felt Hamilton overstepped the mark in that early battle?

“I think I was also quite careful, I think I could have been a little bit more aggressive,” he responded.

“But on the other hand, I didn’t want to have any damage on my car, because I knew that we had a quick car. So even losing one or two spots was not the end of the world.”

Hamilton had a couple more opportunities up against Verstappen in a standing start, the race having restarted twice in this way, though Hamilton could not find a way past.

The Mercedes driver admitted that he had higher hopes, though also had to keep a close eye on Alonso lurking behind.

Asked if it is a case of fearing losing a place on those restarts, or being happy to go for the move ahead, Hamilton replied: “I mean, I was always trying to get to first, even when I was third.

“But then up alongside Max at the end, I really was hoping for a better start than I got. We both got pretty much similar getaways and then he had a better second phase.

“And then it’s just not to lose out to Fernando, he was having good starts as well, so it’s all very, very close and all within a metre or so by the time you get to Turn 1. So initially, I was trying to get ahead, and then otherwise you’re just at the end not wanting to lose a position to the Aston.” recommends

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While Verstappen did pull away from Hamilton in the closing stages before another race stoppage, this was the first race of F1 2023 where it felt like the dominant Red Bull RB19 had truly been tested by a rival challenger.

However, Verstappen does not want to say yet whether Mercedes and Aston Martin have closed the gap.

“I think it’s also been the nature of the track with the very low deg,” he suggested. “So I think that all made it a bit closer.

“The warm-up was also quite tricky, some teams probably nailed it a bit better than others. So yeah, difficult to say. I think we need to go to a few more tracks to have a full understanding.”

With Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez finishing down in P5, it means Verstappen has extended his lead in the Drivers’ Championship to 15 points heading into the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.