Max Verstappen insists he would be “two tenths faster” than Lewis Hamilton if the two both drove for Mercedes. The current Formula One Drivers’ Championship standings are finely poised with defending world champion Hamilton four points behind his Red Bull rival after six races of the 2021 season.
Verstappen looked set to stretch that gap to 15 points last Sunday at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with the Dutchman in full control on the streets of Baku.
But the 21-year-old suffered a left-rear tyre blowout just five laps from the finish and his 200mph crash down the main pit straight robbed him of victory and brought out the red flags.
A frustrated Verstappen kicked out at his stricken RB16B afterwards with Hamilton then sat in the pits knowing he could retake control of the driver’s title just by finishing second, or even more so by overtaking Sergio Perez for the win.
But after a strong getaway at the standing restart, Hamilton locked up and careered off into the run-off area at turn one to allow Perez, whom he had looked set to get in front of, to seal his first Red Bull victory.
It later emerged that Hamilton had accidentally flicked a switch, dubbed the ‘brake magic’, in his Mercedes that affected the brake balance and left his brakes overheating with the 36-year-old as a result unable to slow down at the corner.
He got back on to the track but could only finish P15 as the world champions, with Valtteri Bottas ending P12 in Azerbaijan, slipped to 26 points behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship.
And Verstappen has now come out to claim after seven-time title-holder Hamilton’s struggles in Monaco and Baku that he would outpace the Briton with the same equipment.
He confidently declared: “I would say that if I were him, I think if I was in his car I would be driving two tenths faster than him. I don’t care what he says.
“Everyone is trying to do their best, right? I’m not going to say that he makes mistakes because he feels pressure.
“Everyone is trying to get the most out of it, so am I. Lewis has to fight not only with his team-mate [Bottas] this year, but also with another team.
“That adds an extra dimension and I think that is only good for the sport.”
Verstappen was left disappointed he could not take advantage of Red Bull’s edge on Mercedes on twisty street tracks and admitted it was a “missed opportunity” to widen the gap to Hamilton in the championship.
The 12-time Grand Prix winner added: “It seems like we have the upper hand over Mercedes on street circuits. That’s exactly why I would have liked to score more points.
“Of course it makes a difference [that Hamilton didn’t score], but of course I would have preferred to have walked away [with the win].
“I’m sure on normal circuits it becomes a lot harder to have a race like we had here. Our car was very good, but I honestly expect a very strong Mercedes on normal circuits.
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“I feel bad about this missed opportunity to run out of points. We need those points over the whole season, especially when we go back to normal circuits.”
Hamilton meanwhile insisted last month that he has no desire to play “mind games” with his Red Bull rival and insists a war of words would be “a bit childish”.
Prior to Monaco, a circuit where Verstappen was victorious for the first time in his F1 career, Hamilton said of his main title challenger that he may feel “he has a lot to prove” having yet to win a title.
And Verstappen hit back after his Monte Carlo triumph: “First of all, actions speak louder than words. I think that is a good lesson after this weekend. You have to talk on the track, and that is what I like.”
But Hamilton then replied: “I’m not playing mind games. It is interesting what [Red Bull team principal] Christian [Horner] comes out with, but I couldn’t care less.
“They did a great job this weekend and that is that. We have had some good races also, but as I said there are 17 races to go. So it starts to get a bit childish when you get into a war of words.”
The F1 circus resumes at Circuit Paul Ricard in France on the weekend of June 18 to June 20, a track where Hamilton and Mercedes have reached on the chequered flag first on both occasions the event has been held since its 2018 reintroduction.
Verstappen by contrast ended second in 2018 before coming fourth in 2019.