Max Verstappen says he was congratulated by both Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff after winning the Formula 1 title.
Verstappen triumphed after a controversial end to the season amid arguments over the rules after a late-race safety car period that tore the title from Hamilton’s grasp.
Verstappen said: “Toto sent me a text – congratulations on the season and that I deserved to win, that was very nice.” The Red Bull driver added: “Lewis is a great sportsman in general.”
Verstappen was talking in his first news conference since becoming champion, and he admitted he was suffering a little after partying through the night in celebration with the Red Bull team.
He said he understood how much Hamilton would have been hurting.
The Briton led for the vast majority of the race and was on course for the title, only to lose it on the final lap.
“Of course it helps if you have already seven titles,” Verstappen said. “That comforts him a bit.
“I think if it was the other way around, it would have been more painful for me because I didn’t have one.
“Lewis came up to me and congratulated me. It must have been very tough in that last lap. It also shows the respect we have for each other.
“Of course we had our tough times through the season but we respect what we’re doing and we were pushing each other to the limit and it has been very enjoyable racing against him.”
Race stewards rejected two protests lodged by Mercedes against the way race director Michael Masi conducted the final laps.
The team have lodged an intention to appeal against the decision and have until about 19:00 GMT on Thursday to decide whether to press ahead.
Mercedes objected to the fact that Masi had not followed the rules or normal protocols governing the operation of the safety car.
The safety car period left Hamilton, on worn-out, old tyres, exposed to Verstappen, who had fitted fresh ones when the safety car was deployed, a decision Mercedes could not risk taking because it would have cost them the lead.
Mercedes argue that had the rules been followed correctly, the race would not have been restarted and Hamilton would be champion.
Verstappen said that the controversy did not take the shine off his win.
“I think it’s a bit of a part of the whole season – it’s been like that already a few times, with protests or whatever,” he said.
“It is what it is. That’s racing sometimes. For me, nothing really changed. We were still celebrating and we did win it on track. We didn’t do anything wrong. We just raced when there was a green light. That made it enjoyable for us.
“Lately we weren’t the quickest team anymore and I could see my lead getting smaller. It has been very hard.
“Last year some races didn’t feel like a work-out but this year most of the races have been flat out between me and Lewis – it has been completely different physically.
“You could see some races when we jumped out of the car we were quite run down, but that’s how it should be.”
Verstappen revealed that he had had a phone call with Red Bull co-owner Dietrich Mateschitz after the race and expressed his gratitude and commitment to the team, who made him the youngest F1 driver in history in 2015 at the age of 17.
“I thanked him for the support and said I hoped we could do this for many more years and of course together,” Verstappen said.