Hamilton lagging behind after Red Bull's 'big leap', but Verstappen wants more

By Sports Desk September 05, 2021

Max Verstappen feared Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes were leaving Red Bull behind before Formula One's mid-season break, but the tables have turned and now the Dutchman wants to pull further clear.

Verstappen won five of the first nine races in 2021 to take control of the title race, only to then earn only five points across the next two races – three of them from sprint qualifying at Silverstone.

It meant Hamilton entered last month's break with a six-point advantage as he seeks a record-breaking eighth drivers' championship.

Red Bull regrouped, however, and Verstappen has claimed consecutive wins in Belgium, the country of his birth, and his home nation the Netherlands.

After his pole at the Dutch Grand Prix this weekend, the 23-year-old had complete control of the race at Zandvoort, able to hold off Hamilton and become the first Dutch driver to win at home.

Red Bull again showed greater pace than Mercedes, with Hamilton feeling the gap has widened since the season's resumption.

"I'm giving it everything. We're giving it absolutely everything," Hamilton told a post-race news conference.

"Even since the first race, these guys have just had such a strong car all year. We're trying as hard as we can.

"We had a couple of races where we looked like we were just about on par with them or just slightly ahead, but there's only been a couple of those.

"Then they took a big leap, and it's been difficult. You can't really overtake in a lot of these places we've been to, because we are so closely matched.

"There's nothing really more I can say – we just have to keep our heads down, keep working, keep pushing.

"We are ahead in the team championship, which is great, but of course we need to pick up some speed if we want to win races in future."

Verstappen explained this improvement was in response to Hamilton's performances in Great Britain and Hungary.

"For me, they had pole position at Silverstone, even though of course it didn't count as pole position, and they were ahead in Hungary, where they definitely had more pace than us," Verstappen said.

"Of course, Hungary was a crazy race with what happened, with the wet and the start, so I think you shouldn't look at stats.

"You should look at the realistic pace that there was and not look always at the race result, because I think definitely they would have won Hungary if everything went normal.

"That's why I really thought in the break, I was like, 'We really need to speed things up, because otherwise they're going to run away with it'.

"I think we did, we did pick it up a bit, [but] I feel like we still need a bit more.

"It's heading into the right direction, but there are quite a lot of different kind of tracks coming up, so it will definitely swing both ways. We just have to keep on it, keep pushing and keep bringing new bits to the car."

One area in which Hamilton has noted Red Bull progress all year long is with their Honda power unit, which made Verstappen "a rocket off the start" at Zandvoort.

"They've made a big, big step forward this year with their engine," Hamilton said. "You saw it last year, they weren't the greatest at starts.

"They've improved their power – just the whole power unit's massively better this year on all aspects for them.

"Naturally, their driveability and their starts... they're the quickest starters this year, I think, overall. We've got some work to do in lots of different areas."

Hamilton still could have won on Sunday, he felt, but Mercedes would have had to be "perfect".

"I think today we probably needed everything to be perfect to even have the slightest chance of getting past them through a strategy," Hamilton said.

"Pit stops needed to be on point, strategy needed to be on point, traffic also, but none of those three were ideal today."

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  • Another grid penalty for Hamilton 'could be worth taking', says Wolff Another grid penalty for Hamilton 'could be worth taking', says Wolff

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has explained why Lewis Hamilton was forced to replace his engine and take a grid penalty on Sunday, refusing to rule out a repeat before the end of the season.

    The Briton's 10-place penalty after topping qualifying contributed to a fifth-place finish at the Turkish Grand Prix, with team-mate Valtteri Bottas winning and title rival Max Verstappen finishing second to move six points clear of Hamilton in the championship standings.

    However, Wolff revealed that the team felt they had no choice but to take a new Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) due to issues with Hamilton's previous power unit.

    He insisted there had been no tactical timing to the decision, which was needed for technical reasons.

    "We had to do it," Wolff told Sky Sports. "We saw some data on the Internal Combustion unit that didn't look very promising and a DNF is a total killer for the championship.

    "We've seen over the course of the season that we've had some little gremlins that we weren't completely sure where they came from and how much performance they could potentially cost.

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    "I think we understand much better now where the root cause lies and it's something that can happen from time to time if you just have a material issue, a batch problem and these are the things you need to consider."

    The replacement power unit was Hamilton's fourth of the season, but Wolff suggested that it was not beyond the realms of possibility that he would be forced to take a fifth before the end of the campaign.

    "The fourth one can last until the end of the season but there could be a moment where we say is it worth taking a fresh one because the other one is still at risk," Wolff continued.

    "So this is something that is going to be really a work in progress."

    There are six races to go in the 2021 Formula One season, a run that starts with the United States Grand Prix - an event Hamilton has won a record six times - on October 24.

  • Hamilton denies being 'furious' with Mercedes as he vows to learn from Turkish GP pit call Hamilton denies being 'furious' with Mercedes as he vows to learn from Turkish GP pit call

    Lewis Hamilton has denied being "furious" with Mercedes over the decision to pull him in for a pit stop late on in Sunday's Turkish Grand Prix.

    The seven-time world champion had climbed from 11th in the grid to third when called by his team to switch onto intermediate tyres on the wet surface.

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    He made his apparent frustration clear at the time, saying over the team radio: "Why did you give up that place? We shouldn't have come in."

    However, Hamilton feels the disagreement has been blown out of proportion, even if he accepts lessons can be learned.

    "I've seen some of the press this morning, which has made a bit too much of the incident in yesterday's race of when to pit," he posted on his personal Instagram account.

    "It isn't true to say I'm furious with my team. 

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    Hamilton, who qualified fastest but was handed a 10-place grid penalty due to an engine change, is now six points behind championship leader Max Verstappen.

    Verstappen finished second in Istanbul, with Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas claiming victory, and the Dutchman acknowledges Red Bull have a lot more work to do if he is to claim a first Formula One world title.

    "Of course overall I think we have been at tracks that naturally were a bit better for Mercedes, but then this track was a bit unknown, and clearly they were ahead of us," he told Sky Sports.

    "I do think we need to step it up a bit to be in the fight until the end of the season."

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