Hamilton must play 'long game' to beat Verstappen after sprint race blow

By Sports Desk July 17, 2021

Lewis Hamilton thinks Mercedes will need to play "the long game" if they are to have any chance of beating Max Verstappen and Red Bull at the British Grand Prix.

The first-ever Formula One sprint race took place on Saturday, with Verstappen passing Hamilton – who had qualified fastest in a new Friday session - on the first lap and going on to win.

That means Verstappen is awarded pole position and three championship points with Hamilton and third-placed Valtteri Bottas having to settle for two and one respectively.

Hamilton is grateful to have the chance to bounce back in the main race on Sunday but is under no illusions over the size of the task facing him on home soil as Verstappen seeks a fourth consecutive F1 victory.

"Sunday is going to be tough," Hamilton, who is seeking a record eighth win at Silverstone, told reporters after the 17-lap sprint.

"He [Verstappen] had a lot of pace in him and I don't think he was particularly having to push too hard, and we were flat-out. 

"If I can try somehow to keep up with them through the stints, maybe we can apply pressure through strategy – but we're not going to be overtaking them on the track: they're just too fast. 

"So, we play the long game hopefully."

In the sprint race it was a slow start that cost Hamilton, who now trails Verstappen by 33 points.

The seven-time world champion added: "I gave it everything, it's just not good when you lose from P1. We'll try to turn the negative into a positive.

"Every point counts, but I'm grateful to have finished. We will fight again, but they're just so strong, in the race he was pulling away. There was nothing I could do to hold onto him.

"We really have to try and be in front somehow. I wish we could re-do the start again, but luckily we have it again on Sunday."

Verstappen believes Mercedes are competitive rivals for the race and the Dutchman will be outnumbered given Sergio Perez, who spun off and later retired in the sprint, will start at the back of the grid.

"What we learned on Saturday is that it's very close again," said the championship leader.

"It's a bit different. It seems like we are quick through corners, they are quick on the straight this weekend.

"The pace was alright but I still expect with a pit-stop coming into play – or two pit stops, who knows – it’s again going to be a good fight." 

Hamilton was positive about the trial changes made to the format this weekend, but thinks everything, including qualifying, should be packed in to Saturday and Sunday if a sprint becomes a permanent feature.

Speaking to Sky Sports, he added: "We should do more like that [the sprint], maybe a different version of it, in future because this makes the weekend more enjoyable I think.

"They did a great job and I think the fans enjoyed it, from what we saw on the parade laps. 

"I think this weekend's been awesome in terms of Friday, it was such a fun day to have qualifying - way more enjoyable [than practice would have been].

"It's always nice doing more races that’s for sure, but it is almost like they should almost do the sprint race on the Sunday and then the race because there could be a lot of sitting around for people on Sunday.

"It's been great to try something new - we should just do a long Saturday and long Sunday. P1, P2, qualifying on Saturday and then a sprint race and a race on Sunday. Pack it all in!

"That means we have one whole day less, 23 days actually less of driving these cars around the track and obviously that would be better in terms of going more green."

George Russell finished the sprint in ninth but has been handed a three-place grid penalty for an incident with Carlos Sainz.

He therefore drops to 12th, with Esteban Ocon, Sainz and Pierre Gasly the beneficiaries.

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  • Verstappen hails 'perfect' Red Bull call after clinching unlikely podium finish in Sochi Verstappen hails 'perfect' Red Bull call after clinching unlikely podium finish in Sochi

    Max Verstappen believes Red Bull made a perfect call to switch tyres as he went from last on the grid to finish second at the Russian Grand Prix.

    Lewis Hamilton claimed his 100th Formula One triumph in Sunday's race in Sochi, the reigning world champion passing Lando Norris, who saw his chances of clinching victory from his maiden pole slip away when he lost control in the rain with just three laps to go.

    Hamilton's win moves him ahead of Verstappen in the championship standings, but the Dutchman ensured the gap is only two points as he charged up to second.

    Verstappen had started at the back of the grid after Red Bull installed a new engine to his car, though he said the key to his podium finish was a decision to switch to intermediate tyres as the rain closed in.

    "I'm super happy of course to be second," Verstappen said.

    "If you would have told me this morning that I would come second today, I wouldn't believe you. But luckily the call to go from the slicks to the inters was the perfect one I think, the right lap. Super pleased for this.

    "When the rain came, I think at the end of the day we made the right call and the right lap to box, because the lap before, probably if we would have boxed, I would have destroyed the inters in that one or two laps because of it still being a bit too dry for two-thirds of the track.

    "So to basically go from seventh to second for us was an amazing result."

    Reflecting on what Hamilton's landmark win means for the title race, Verstappen added: "It could of course have been a lot worse in terms of how many points I would lose.

    "Especially also with the conditions, it's already very hard to pass. But then also today because of track conditions and whatever, the tyres were graining a lot, so you also couldn't really push or stay close to someone. All in all to come away with second here was, of course, very important."

    Norris, meanwhile, was left to lament his misfortune as the win slipped from his grasp.

    "I don't know where to start," said Norris, who ultimately finished seventh and took responsibility for the decision not to switch to intermediate tyres.

    "Obviously unhappy, devastated in a way. I guess we made a call to stay out; we stand by that call but it was the wrong one at the end of the day.

    "I made a decision just as much as the team. In fact, it was more they thought I should box and I decided to stay out. So, my decision – I thought it was the way to go.

    "I think I had the confidence beforehand. I knew I was capable of doing it, I've felt capable of doing it for a while so I don't think that’s really changed. Just a bit of heartbreak.

    "I felt like I did everything I could, even when it got tricky at the end."

  • Hamilton: Mercedes have 'work cut out' to beat Verstappen and Red Bull Hamilton: Mercedes have 'work cut out' to beat Verstappen and Red Bull

    Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes still have their work cut out to beat Max Verstappen and Red Bull, despite the victory in an eventful Russian Grand Prix that took him back to the top of the Formula One standings.

    Reigning title-holder Hamilton leads Verstappen in the drivers' championship by two points after claiming his 100th F1 triumph in Sochi.

    Hamilton passed McLaren's Lando Norris, who was eyeing a maiden victory from pole position, to become the first driver to reach a century of wins.

    Norris spun off the track while leading with three laps to go as rain caused late havoc, Hamilton's British compatriot finishing seventh as Verstappen was able to secure second place having started at the back of the grid.

    "What a race the weather provided. It's taken a long time to get to 100, and I wasn't sure it would come," Hamilton told Sky Sports.

    "Lando did such an amazing job, he had incredible pace and is doing such a great job for McLaren. It was bittersweet to see my old team ahead, and they're doing fantastically."

    Hamilton made amends having been disappointed with a qualifying performance that saw him start fourth on the grid, though he remains naturally wary of the threat posed by Verstappen.

    "Going to bed last night I was not the happiest with the job I did yesterday," Hamilton said.

    "I watched the replay and they were subtle mistakes but not ideal. I was so determined when I woke up this morning, and I was determined to just do the best job I could. I lost a lot of ground at the start trying to stay out of trouble.

    "Max must have done a really great job to come up to second from last. We've got our work cut out.

    "It would have been tough to get past Lando unless we came up to some traffic or he made a mistake, which he hasn't been doing, so then the rain came and it was very opportunistic."

  • Hamilton clinches 100th victory at Russian Grand Prix to snatch championship lead Hamilton clinches 100th victory at Russian Grand Prix to snatch championship lead

    Lewis Hamilton collected his 100th Formula One victory at the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday after pipping Lando Norris to top spot.

    Norris, who secured pole position and was eyeing a maiden victory, spun off the track with three laps to go as rain started to cause chaos in Sochi.

    That allowed Hamilton to capitalise and sneak into a late lead to secure his century of race victories, the first F1 driver to achieve such a haul.

    McLaren, who collected their first win since 2012 at the Italian Grand Prix last time out, were left heartbroken as Norris limped to a seventh-placed finish, with Max Verstappen making important ground to finish second.

    Verstappen, who led the championship going into the race, had started from the back of the grid after Red Bull had a new engine installed, but he magnificently recovered to make the podium and ensure Hamilton moves into just a two-point lead.

    Carlos Sainz took the lead on the first corner, with Norris, George Russell and Lance Stroll in close company.

    Daniel Ricciardo, who would eventually settle for fourth, was back in fifth as Hamilton and Fernando Alonso looked to make ground on the McLaren man who was the shock Monza winner.

    Verstappen, meanwhile, was climbing slowly up the grid as he overtook Valtteri Bottas and then Charles Leclerc, moving ominously through the field.

    Norris' pole position looked to be paying off when Alonso and Perez had to pit, giving the 21-year-old the lead with 16 laps to go.

    He had Hamilton in close company four laps later, and it appeared to be a two-car battle as the Englishmen jostled for first place.

    Hamilton took the lead 11 laps later and went on to win as Norris spun out, with Verstappen coasting to his podium placing after making the smart decision to put the intermediate tyres on early.


    Mercedes magic

    Mercedes made the early decision to put on the inters as their rain radar suggested the wet weather was going to come before the finale.

    With others choosing to stick out there and get through it, Hamilton surged into a late lead as Norris' tyres failed him, while Bottas climbed up from 17th on the grid to finish fifth to prove the Mercedes team's decision was an excellent one.

    McLaren mistake

    A visibly upset Norris addressed the television cameras after the race in Sochi but stood by the decision to stay out there.

    The Briton battled to pole position in the adverse conditions the previous day but, for as long as Norris remains without a race win, this will resemble a missed opportunity for him and for McLaren to collect back-to-back wins after their success in Monza.


    IN THE POINTS

    1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +53.271
    3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +1:02.475
    4. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1:05.607
    5. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +1:07.533
    6. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1:21.321
    7. Lando Norris (McLaren) +1:27.224
    8. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo) +1:28.955
    9. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +1:30.076
    10. George Russell (Williams) 1:40.551

    CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

    Drivers

    1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 246.5
    2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 244.5
    3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 151
    4. Lando Norris (McLaren) 139
    5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 120

    Constructors

    1. Mercedes 397.5
    2. Red Bull 364.5
    3. McLaren 234
    4. Ferrari 216.5
    5. Alpine 103

    WHAT'S NEXT?

    There is another two-week gap until the next race, which is the rearranged Turkish Grand Prix.

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