Max Verstappen has rejected Lewis Hamilton’s suggestion that he could be feeling the pressure of their title fight.
Hamilton said he “remembers what it was like battling for my first championship and “knows the pressure that comes with it”.
But Verstappen replied sarcastically: “I am so nervous I can barely sleep! It is so horrible to fight for a title.”
He added: “If someone knows me, I am very relaxed about all those things.”
The pair face off again in Russia this weekend, two weeks after crashing together during the Italian Grand Prix. Red Bull’s Verstappen leads Mercedes’ Hamilton by five points with an expected eight races to go.
Hamilton said: “What’s important is we continue to race hard but fair. I have no doubts we will both be professional and learn from the past.”
Recalling his first championship campaign in his debut season with McLaren in 2007, the Briton emphasised he was “not going to make an assumption [about Verstappen]”. But he said: “I am just saying I remember what it was like and it definitely mounted up.
“It was difficult. It was intense. I was going through a lot of different emotions and I didn’t always handle it the best and that’s to be expected.
“There is a lot of pressure. You’re working in a big team and there is a lot of self-expectation and pressure because the desire to win is huge. I empathise and understand that. But I know we will continue to grow from this.”
Verstappen said: “I am very chilled. It is the best feeling ever to have a car, a great car, where you can go into every weekend and you can fight for a win.
“Those comments just show you that he really doesn’t know me. Which is fine. I also don’t really need to know him, how he is fully.
“I just focus on myself and I really enjoy it out there at the front and hopefully we can do that for a very long time.”
‘There are lots of hypocrites in the world’
The tension between the pair was also seen in Verstappen’s response to questions about comments Hamilton made after the incident in the last race.
Hamilton said in Italy that he had been surprised that the Dutchman had walked away without checking he was OK.
Verstappen said on Thursday: “There are a lot of hypocrites in the world, that’s for sure.”
That was an apparent reference to their first crash together at the British Grand Prix, when Verstappen accused Hamilton of a lack of respect for celebrating his victory while the Red Bull driver was being assessed in hospital.
But Verstappen rejected the suggestion that the rivalry could become nasty.
“Not from my side,” he said. “I am pretty chilled about it. It is more the questions I keep getting about it.
“We are all professional enough to leave it behind us in Monza and continue in Sochi and the races after that.”
‘Ultimately, we all have to be smart’
Beyond the two crashes, there have been a number of near-misses between the title rivals this season.
On the first laps of the Emilia Romagna and Spanish Grands Prix, a collision was avoided only when Hamilton backed out of a wheel-to-wheel situation, something Verstappen is yet to do.
Hamilton said: “I never expect a driver to back down. That’s not how I approach racing with any driver.
“Ultimately, we all have to be smart and know that there is a time when you are not going to make a corner. It’s all about making sure you live to fight at the next corner.
“And through experience you find that balance, and you know that it’s not all won on one corner.
“I know what it’s like fighting for your first championship and your eagerness and you go through lots of different experiences and emotions during that time.
“I do believe we will continue to get stronger and I am hopeful we won’t have any more instances through the year.”
Asked whether he would change his approach, Verstappen said: “I think that goes both ways. It is not only me when we are racing each other.”
Further questions to be resolved
Verstappen has a three-place grid penalty in Russia this weekend after being judged “predominantly to blame” for his crash with Hamilton in Italy.
The Dutchman will need to take a new engine at some point in the remaining races to ensure he can get to the end of the season, and that will mean an automatic grid penalty because he has already reached his maximum allocation of three.
Red Bull are considering taking the engine in Russia because he already has the grid penalty but Verstappen said: “Nothing has been fully decided yet.”
Hamilton said he had not had any after-effects from the crash, in which he was hit on the head by Verstappen’s car.
“I had lots of good positive treatments and lots of yoga and managed to get back in the gym,” he said. “Very fortunate.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes colleague Valtteri Bottas said he was prepared to take team orders to boost the Briton’s title bid if the situation arises over the rest of the season.
The Finn said he “didn’t know” if he would be allowed to win but that he would let Hamilton by if required – something Mercedes will ask if he is running ahead of his team-mate towards the end of races.
“We have discussed many things internally,” Bottas said. “Every race is different. There could be times we need to play as a team and I need to take one for the team and this situation as it is, yes, I would do it. I am here for the team and I want to make sure we win both titles.”