Hamilton: Imola recovery will be 'very valuable' in F1 title race

By Sports Desk April 18, 2021

Lewis Hamilton believes his remarkable recovery to finish second at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday will prove "very valuable" this season.

In the second race of the year, Hamilton seemed set for a lowly finish at best.

Having lost first place to Max Verstappen at Turn One on the first lap of an epic affair, the defending champion, chasing his rival, ran off into a gravel trap midway through the grand prix.

Hamilton was briefly stuck against the wall, struggling to reverse his car back onto the track, before the W12 limped towards the pit under a shower of sparks.

But a red flag prompted by an incident involving team-mate Valtteri Bottas then brought the race to a standstill.

Hamilton had been ninth and a lap down, yet the restart allowed him to weave through the field and claim P2, behind Verstappen but still ahead of the Red Bull man in the drivers' championship.

"I think, without doubt, getting back to second and getting these points will be very valuable through the season," said the Briton.

"If I'd lost 25 points, that would have been hard to recover based on the fact that [for] Red Bull it's the first time that they've had a championship-winning car.

"Their car is incredibly fast. They were faster than us this weekend, definitely in qualifying trim but it looks like a little bit also in race trim.

"I don't know if they made a couple of mistakes – I think they did, Max did in qualifying for example otherwise he would have been on pole.

"But we've got a real close battle. We love the fact that it's a close battle and it's great to see McLaren back up there after such a long time, it's great to see Ferrari looking strong.

"So, there's going to be a lot of exciting races up ahead and challenging for all of us in so many different ways."

Although Hamilton's resurgence prevented Verstappen from taking an early lead in the standings, the Dutchman was delighted to land a blow in the title tussle, having trailed the Mercedes man in the season opener.

But he was also not getting carried away after a first win of the year.

"It's a very long season. We just have to keep on working very hard," Verstappen said. "I'm very happy with the result today, of course, but that's today.

"I'm of course going to be happy about today, but tomorrow, we start again. We have to keep on improving because there's still a lot of work to be able to keep doing this the whole season.

"It's great to be fighting against Lewis, Mercedes who, I think, as a team, have been so dominant and they're very difficult to beat.

"To be able to sit here now, now two races in a row, we were very, very competitive – that's very promising but no guarantees."

With his nose pressed against the wall and rivals crashing elsewhere on the track in torrid Imola rain, Hamilton could easily have retired following his crash.

He was not to know then that the collision between Bottas and George Russell would provide a reprieve, but he was delighted to be able to continue and learn "an amazing lesson" regardless.

"I remember just sitting there, looking at the barrier, and I refused to think that the race was over," Hamilton said. "I refused to believe that the race was done.

"I could have obviously just turned the car off and got out but I'm grateful that I didn't.

"I'm grateful that I did do a reverse and then, after that, just kind of getting out the car and trying to switch the anger and turn it into positive energy so that I could get back in and race forwards.

"It's an amazing lesson to be sent and experience."

And Hamilton, so often starting from the front of the grid, actually relished the chance to blaze past the opposition from ninth place.

"I loved it," he added. "That's how my career actually started as a kid, coming through.

"We had a really dodgy, old go-kart, so I was always starting at the back. It just took me back to my roots."

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    Max Verstappen shrugged off pressure as the championship leader insisted it does not matter where he finishes, despite being a win away from claiming the Formula One title.

    Verstappen can clinch the F1 title at Sunday's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – the Dutchman holds an eight-point lead over defending world champion and Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton with two races to go.

    While Verstappen stands on the cusp of glory, Red Bull star Verstappen said his approach would not change.

    Hamilton has stated he is "more relaxed than ever", putting pressure on Verstappen, especially after winning the past two races to narrow the margin.

    "Like I've done the whole season, there's no change in that," Verstappen, 24, told reporters about his approach in Jeddah for the first Grand Prix at the circuit.

    "It's a new track, first of all we need to learn the track and see how that goes in FP1. For the rest, I just focus on the weekend and try to be as competitive as I can be."

    Verstappen continued: "It’s just been of course a great year for us. We had a lot of good moments and it's more enjoyable. Last year was pretty boring for me, because basically all the time I was just in third… to be in this title fight to the end I think is very impressive from our side.

    "And of course, I'll try to keep enjoying the last two races. It doesn't matter where we end up; we've had a really, really good season as a team."

    Verstappen is 12 years younger than Hamilton, who is a seven-time world champion, and admitted that experience plays a part.

    However, Verstappen said he has learned a lot since entering F1 in 2015, finishing third overall in both 2019 and 2020.

    "I think it's natural of course that when you are in this stage of your career you are better prepared than what you were in your first or second, when Lewis was fighting for his first title," Verstappen said.

    "I think it's a natural progression and it's very normal. I also feel much better prepared and more experienced than when I first came into Formula 1.

    "No, I don't think that makes a big difference, because otherwise it would have shown already throughout the season."

  • Lewis Hamilton does not feel comfortable racing in Saudi Arabia Lewis Hamilton does not feel comfortable racing in Saudi Arabia

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    Mercedes driver Hamilton heads into the penultimate race of the season eight points behind championship leader Max Verstappen. 

    Verstappen could win his maiden title on Sunday if results go his way, but Hamilton has won the last two races in Brazil and Qatar and feels in good shape. 

    "I'm more relaxed than I've ever been," he said. "I've been around a long time. I remember how it was with my first championship, even my second and third... the sleepless nights. 

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  • Championship hangs in balance as Hamilton seeks third straight win in Saudi Arabia Championship hangs in balance as Hamilton seeks third straight win in Saudi Arabia

    One of the most memorable Formula One title races in history could be settled this weekend as Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton continue their thrilling 2021 battle at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

    A high-speed street race in Jeddah will become the 76th circuit to host an event in F1 history and could be the scene of Verstappen being crowned world champion for the first time.

    Verstappen takes an eight-point lead to Saudi Arabia and after the event there will only be 26 left up for grabs in the Abu Dhabi season finale.

    But it is his in-form title rival Hamilton who will be feeling the best heading to a new venue as he seeks a third consecutive race victory for the first time in 2021.

    Hamilton has launched a stunning late-season charge in his bid to win an eighth world title that would take him above Michael Schumacher for the all-time record but still finds himself with little margin for error.

    Should Verstappen win the title, it would be the first time a championship has been decided at a debuting circuit since 1981 when Nelson Piquet was crowned in Las Vegas.

    There is also a scenario where the two drivers could, fittingly, go into the last race of the season tied.

    If Hamilton wins while setting the fastest lap and Verstappen comes second, the top two would be level going into the final event for the first time since 1974, when Emerson Fittipaldi did battle against Clay Regazzoni.

    It has been an incredibly consistent season for Verstappen, who has nine wins, nine pole positions and finished in the top two for 16 of the 17 races he has finished.

    Verstappen could earn a 17th podium in Saudi Arabia that would equal the record jointly held by Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Schumacher for the most in a single season.

    But victory is all that really matters to both drivers on Sunday, with a brand-new circuit containing 27 corners – the most on the F1 calendar – set to play a huge role in determining the outcome of a dramatic season.

    LAST TIME OUT

    Hamilton celebrated consecutive Formula One wins for the first time since May in the first-ever edition of the Qatar Grand Prix.

    Verstappen limited the damage despite a five-place grid penalty due to a yellow-flag infringement in qualifying, impressively recovering to finish second.

    The Dutchman also took the extra point for the fastest lap, assured of beating Hamilton to that feat due to a late virtual safety car following a series of punctures.

    That outcome set up a tantalising final two races of the season in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

    The two title rivals were joined on the Losail podium by Fernando Alonso, the two-time champion's first top-three finish since 2014.

    Valtteri Bottas, running in third, suffered a puncture as he attempted a one-stop strategy and ultimately retired, while Sergio Perez questioned Red Bull's call to bring him in twice as he pursued a podium.

    The Mexican could not catch Alonso and had to settle for fourth place, ahead of Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll.

    WHAT TO EXPECT IN SAUDI ARABIA

    With all the momentum behind him, Hamilton goes into the race at Jeddah Corniche Circuit as the favourite for victory, a result which would put the record eighth title within his grasp.

    But for Verstappen this event is the first of two opportunities he will have to be crowned world champion. Even a small mistake from either driver at this stage could prove pivotal and the stakes could not be higher.

    Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said their W12 car is performing better than it has been all season ahead of the event, with Red Bull under pressure to bounce back.

    The constructors' championship is also up for grabs. Red Bull have closed to within five points of their rivals, while Ferrari are looking to lock up third place ahead of McLaren.

    Aside from the championship implications, the debut of the fastest street circuit on the calendar at another new F1 venue should be intriguing.

    F1 have revealed average speeds are predicted to be over 155mph with top speeds almost reaching 200mph in what could be a spectacular night race under the lights.

    TOP FIVE OPTA FACTS

    Hamilton history – The Briton has become the F1 driver with the most seasons (eight) that contain at least seven victories, surpassing Schumacher (seven seasons).

    Maiden Mercedes – The team have won the race and taken pole position in the last five circuit debuts in F1. As well as in Qatar time out, it also happened in Sochi (2014), Baku (2016), Mugello (2020), Portimao (2020).

    Pole position – If Mercedes claim pole it will be their fourth in a row and best run of the season. However, Red Bull have had the better of qualifying this season, as Hamilton and Bottas combined (eight) have fewer poles than Verstappen alone (nine).

    Max milestones – Should Verstappen be crowned world champion, he will be the first Dutchman to achieve the feat, the first non-Mercedes driver to do it in the eight hybrid era years and the fourth-youngest in history at 24.

    Perez progress – While Verstappen's team-mate will not be thrilled to sit fourth in the standings, he has still collected nine points more in 20 races for Red Bull (190) than his predecessor Alex Albon did in 26 races (181) for the team.

    CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

    Drivers

    1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 351.5
    2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 343.5
    3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 203
    4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 190
    5. Lando Norris (McLaren) 153

    Constructors

    1. Mercedes 546.5
    2. Red Bull 541.5
    3. Ferrari 297.5
    4. McLaren 258
    5. Alpine 137

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