They could hardly be closer at the top of the Formula One standings, but as Lewis Hamilton prepares for a race he always describes in the warmest terms, the Mercedes driver implied that relations with his title rival are on the cool side.
The championship battle between Hamilton and Max Verstappen is tight and tense, especially after their collisions at Silverstone and Monza earlier this year. Asked on Thursday ahead of Sunday’s US Grand Prix whether this season’s events have changed their relationship, Hamilton was circumspect. “Not really a huge amount to say. We have limited communication,” he said.
“Some of the drivers hang more than others do,” he added. “I wouldn’t say I particularly hang closely, particularly, with anybody here. So like last year, we would see each other at the track and we would say ‘hi’. Do the same thing this year. It’s no different for me personally.”
With six races left there is a strong possibility that the title will still be up for grabs when the campaign climaxes in Abu Dhabi on 12 December. Hamilton is chasing his fifth successive world championship – chasing now the operative word as he looks to make up a deficit on Verstappen, the Red Bull driver. “A lot can happen in these six races,” Hamilton said.
The 36-year-old is searching for what would be only his second win since the British Grand Prix in July. A two-point advantage at the top of the standings for Hamilton heading into the previous race at Istanbul Park two weeks ago turned into a six-point deficit after a fifth-place finish, with Verstappen second behind Valtteri Bottas.
Turkey was the tale of a four-letter word and a 10-place grid penalty, the reigning world champion cursing his team’s cautious strategy as he was ordered to pit while third late in the race and rejoined traffic in fifth. He had started in 11th, paying the price for fitting a new engine.
The good news for Hamilton and his team is that the Mercedes’ formidable pace in Istanbul was an ominous sign for their rivals, and they usually prosper in the US. A Mercedes has secured pole position in each of the past six races in Austin and Hamilton has won five of the eight contests held at the Texan track, though his last victory came in 2017. Verstappen has never won at the Circuit of the Americas, his best result second place in 2018.
The race was not held in 2020. “It’s amazing to be back,” Hamilton said. “It’s a place of great, great memories,” he added - both behind the wheel and in his personal life, given his love of New York and annual off-season holidays in Hawaii.
Naturally, then, Hamilton is delighted that a second American race will join the calendar next year when Miami makes its debut. “The US Grand Prix is fantastic and it’s such a huge country, having just one race here for sure isn’t enough,” he said. “They’re crazy about sports over here and there’s never enough sports, they always want more action.”
Verstappen sounded downbeat despite his lead. “The team result was good in Turkey, the overall performance wasn’t amazing,” he said. “We still have a bit of work to do, we want to be faster.” Asked if he believes Mercedes have upped the pace, the 24-year-old said: “Yeah, of course, they did. But we can’t really do anything about that, so we have to focus on ourselves.”