For the second time this season, Hamilton and Verstappen collided at the Italian Grand Prix. The incident took both drivers out of the race and led to Verstappen being given a three-place grid penalty for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix.
Verstappen leads the championship by five points and is looking to win his first title. By contrast, Hamilton has won more F1 races than any other driver in history and is hunting an eighth title which would move him clear of Michael Schumacher on the all-time list of champions.
Hamilton, who made his debut in 2007 and won his first championship the following season, said he can remember how difficult it is to be fighting for the first one.
“Naturally, we are battling for a championship,” Hamilton said. “I remember what it was like battling for my first championship and obviously I’m fighting for something like my 10th battle. I remember what it was like and the pressure and experiences that you go with, so I empathise with that.
“I think what is important is that we continue to race hard, but fair. I have no doubts that we will both be professional and learn from the past.
“Obviously [Max] won’t admit to it and I’m not going to make an assumption but I’m just saying I remember what it was like when I had my first one and it definitely mounted up. It was difficult, it was intense, I was going through a lot of different emotions, I didn’t always handle it the best and that’s to be expected.
“There’s a lot of pressure, you’re working in a big team, there’s a lot of self-expectation and pressure because the desire to win is huge. So I’m just saying I empathise and I understand that, but I know that we will continue to grow from this.”
Unlike their clash at the British Grand Prix in July, when Hamilton received a penalty, the Monza race stewards found Verstappen “predominantly to blame” for their second clash. He arrives at Sochi with a grid penalty to serve, meaning it is likely Red Bull will change his engine, which would drop the Dutch driver to the back of the grid.
Many pundits have said the Monza incident showed an unwillingness from Verstappen to back down in wheel-to-wheel duels. While Hamilton said this mindset is understandable, he added that racing smart is ultimately what wins a driver a world championship.
“Firstly I never expect a driver to back down. That’s not how I approach racing with any drivers.
“I think ultimately we all have to be smart and know there is a time you’re not going to make a corner but it’s all about making sure you live to fight at the next corner.
“That’s really just through experience you find that balance and you know it’s not all won on one corner, so there will be other opportunities. I know what it’s like having the fight for your first championship and your eagerness and you go through lots of different experiences and emotions during that time.
“I do believe that we will continue to get stronger and I’m hopeful that we won’t have any more incidents through the year.”
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