MONACO — Lewis Hamilton believes a good level of respect exists between himself and title rival Max Verstappen, but says the Red Bull driver still acts like “he has a lot to prove”.
Hamilton was speaking ahead of this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix, following four races of close competition with Verstappen so far this season.
The seven-time world champion, who drives for Mercedes, has a 14-point lead over Verstappen after winning three of the first four races, but at every round so far, the two drivers have found themselves fighting each other for position on track.
Speaking at a recent press conference, McLaren CEO Zak Brown said he believed a collision between Hamilton and Verstappen was inevitable at some point this year, but Hamilton hopes the two drivers will keep their racing clean.
“I’ve done well to avoid all the incidents so far but we’ve got 19 more to go,” Hamilton said. “We could connect, hopefully not.
“I think the good thing is I think there is a nice balanced amount of respect between us.
“Perhaps, as you know, he feels that he has a lot to prove, but I am not necessarily in the same boat there and I am more long term.
“It’s a marathon not a sprint sort of mentality, which is ultimately why I have the stats that I have.
“I will continue with that and I will do everything to make sure that we do avoid connecting.”
When Hamilton’s comments were put to Verstappen, the Red Bull driver said: “I have nothing to prove. And avoiding contact, I think it goes both ways, so we have done well, that’s true.
“But we raced hard, we avoided the contact, both sides, let’s hope we can keep doing that and keep being on track and race hard against each other.”
Asked if contact with Hamilton was inevitable at some stage, Verstappen added: “I honestly don’t know what to say any more about these things.
“We never try to crash, do we? It’s just to make a few interesting headlines about that.
“I guess it will get a bit more views when you say yeah ‘it’s a matter of time’ rather than we had some great races so far.
“People will of course clickbait that more.”
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel — who was sat next to Verstappen during the press conference on Wednesday — said such comments come from a lack of understanding of what it’s like to race a modern Formula One car.
“I think one thing people outside, I think journalists, don’t seem to understands is how close it is sometimes and how easily things can go wrong without having any intention,” Vettel said.
“Like Max says, nobody goes into an overtake or wants to take the other car out or himself out as the risk of getting it wrong is high. But you want to get past or defend your position and you’re playing with very little margins and it’s taking so little to get it wrong; but so far they have done really well and it shows the class they both have.
“I don’t see why you are so excited to wait for a crash.
“I think you should be so excited that they managed to race that close and intense without crashing — that’s the skill, not crashing.
“I know for you it is more exciting when there’s bits flying but for us actually I think we get a blast by managing to be right on the edge and mastering that.”