Max Verstappen on Lewis Hamilton, Abu Dhabi controversy and what happens next

Max Verstappen on Lewis Hamilton, Abu Dhabi controversy and what happens next

Max Verstappen has admitted that he and Lewis Hamilton “sometimes hated each other” this year but that the mutual respect between them remains high.

The Red Bull driver said a shared moment after the title was decided at the controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix returned their relationship to normal.

“You look each other in the eye,” he said. “You don’t say a lot but you do relate a lot and you really appreciate the fight.

“Sometimes we did hate each other, but that’s fine. That’s the competitive spirit of both of us. He is an incredible driver.”

Verstappen was speaking on his return to Red Bull’s headquarters for the first time since winning the title.

And the Dutchman admitted that his title win, achieved in controversial circumstances after a late-race safety car, had been fortunate.

“We have won it on track,” he said. “People say it was a lucky win. Absolutely, the win was very lucky.

“But we also have been very unlucky throughout the season, otherwise the championship would have been decided way earlier, even with the dominance Mercedes had towards the end of the season.

“I’m like, ‘Well, sometimes a little bit of luck in your life is nice as well.'”

The 24-year-old Dutchman’s driving has been criticised this year for being too forceful and he has been penalised a number of times for incidents with Hamilton.

But Verstappen said he did not expect to change his approach to wheel-to-wheel racing even if Formula 1 officials keep to their current line that he is not allowed to force drivers off the track when trying to attack or defend.

“Probably not because maybe I just have to make them realise, being forceful,” Verstappen said.

“I have a very good relationship with them. When I’m in there [the stewards’ office], it’s not like I don’t like them. I go to them and we have a good chat and we talk about it and it doesn’t go into my favour.

“It’s not like I then dislike them or whatever; I just don’t agree with what they decide.

“From my side, I’m like: ‘Well, that’s how I race and that’s how I think it’s fair but I don’t agree with that particular decision.'”

And he said he felt for race director Michael Masi, who has been heavily criticised for his handling of the race and a series of inconsistent decisions this year, and who is under pressure in his role.

“It’s a really tough job he has,” Verstappen said. “People say maybe he needs help. Yeah, fair point. Everyone needs help. I need help as well.

“Michael is a nice guy and he tries his very best and it’s very unfair to now start hating on him because it is a very tough job.”

Verstappen also spoke to BBC sports editor Dan Roan on Wednesday, covering a range of topics.

Here are the best bits from the interview.

‘I think races should be won on the track’ – on the controversy

Lewis Hamilton was on course for the title, but was left exposed on old tyres as the race restarted for one final lap after a safety car – Verstappen then passed him to win. Hamilton’s Mercedes team say they will appeal against a decision to reject their post-race protest against the handling of the race. Verstappen says he has “no doubts” about keeping his title despite the appeal still being a possibility.

I can’t speak for them [Mercedes]. I think races should be won on the track and for the whole season we have been doing that.

Across the whole season we had the most poles and most wins. It was intense and pretty insane with the last race but I do think as a team we deserved it.

When you look at all the emotions from everyone throughout that final race, I think it was actually very good for the sport what was happening throughout the race.

I look at myself, what can I do better? That’s the same for the organisers. They will always say, ‘what can we do better for next year?’ That’s what you have to keep in mind.

‘I got a massive cramp’ – on the last lap

I wasn’t even sure when it was going to restart. Then I heard it was going to restart and I was behind him [Hamilton].

I was like, well that’s my only shot at it. It’s going to be second or first. I was very ready for it.

The problem I had when I crossed the start/finish line to try and attack him, I got a massive cramp in my leg so I had to deal with that as well.

You see all the footage of people going crazy in the garage or on the pit wall but I had to first go for the title and deal with a cramp in my leg as well, which is very painful.

Because of the adrenalin, you have to deal with it. It wasn’t easy but that last lap was pretty intense.

I knew I had the grip advantage but you still need to go for the pass. Luckily it all worked out.

‘We really respect each other’ – on Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen tap each other on the shoulder

Lewis Hamilton was magnanimous in his post-race interviews, but said over his team radio at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that the race had been “manipulated”.

Emotions run very high. It has done before throughout the season, so I think that’s normal.

What was nice was that immediately after the race, he came up to me. We had our moments throughout the year when we clashed but we really respect each other.

We have pushed each other to the limit. Most of the time – all the racers – we were on the limit of what we could do, what the car could do.

Also for the teams, they were under pressure to make the right calls. We always have to deliver our best otherwise we knew the other guy would beat us. We can look back at it and really cherish that.

It must have been incredibly tough on Lewis and the team but he has won seven titles so maybe that comforts him in a way. Next year I’m sure he will be delivering to his very best, which is a very, very high level.

It depends on how our cars are but personally I hope [the rivalry with Hamilton continues]. He’s been an amazing competitor. It has been a real pleasure driving against him.

‘My dad threw everything at this’ – on family

Verstappen has been supported throughout his career by his father Jos, who is a former grand prix driver himself.

[Winning the world title] is a life mission my dad and myself had from when I was a little kid.

My dad basically threw everything at it. He believed in me – he went all the way. When you achieve something like this, it was very emotional talking to my dad.

You think back to all the travels throughout Europe you did in the van in go-karting back in the day working towards that ultimate goal.

My close family, friends, my mum, my sister – it’s been a real family effort because they had to suffer for it. That made it that extra special for sure.

‘I will still be upset if I’m second next year’ – on what happens now

It has been hectic all the way through so I’m also pretty tired at the moment after always trying to be perfect and on top of my game. Winning the championship, your body needs a bit of time to recover.

Confidence has never been a problem because as a driver, you always have to believe you can do it. Now that you have achieved it, it just relaxes you a bit.

If I don’t win the race and come second next year, I will still be upset – I still want to win.

Anything that happens now is a bonus but that doesn’t mean that once I have the opportunity to win, I won’t go for it in the same way again.

Not much will change but in the back of your mind you are a bit more relaxed because your ultimate goal you have achieved already.

For now I’m not thinking about it too much, I just need a few weeks to relax. I know once I’m ready again to go, I’m going to give it everything I can.

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