BUDAPEST, Hungary, Aug 5 – Lewis Hamilton hailed Max Verstappen on Monday after a gripping duel in the Hungarian Grand Prix which left drivers and followers of Formula One looking forward to many more battles between the two.
“There really is no better feeling from a racing driver’s point of view — when you have a race like this and face a really strong competitor and a great driver like Max,” explained Hamilton who came through to win the race.
“When I got into second, I was like ‘OK, this whole battle we’ve been talking about me having with Max, we are going to have that today’ and it was really awesome.”
There was an element of relief in the words of Hamilton who had to be at his very best to win the race.
It needed an unexpected second pit-stop — a strategic masterstroke from his Mercedes team — and a 20-lap chase before the five-time world champion finally broke the resistance of the Dutch tyro’s Red Bull as it struggled on worn tyres.
“Lewis’s driving was of a different dimension,” said Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff after the race.
“At first, it did not seem possible but as soon as Lewis sniffed the position there was no holding back. It was an unbelievable drive.”
It marked Hamilton’s record-extending seventh win in Hungary, which was the 81st victory of his career. Michael Schumacher’s record 91 wins looms ever-closer.
More importantly for this season’s title race, it was the Briton’s eighth win out of 12 races in the first half of the season and, as the teams down tools for their summer break, puts him 62 points clear of teammate Valtteri Bottas.
The battle between Hamilton and Verstappen produced a fourth thrilling race in succession to follow a drab processional French event in June.
The Dutchman’s second place came after his first ever pole and followed victory in Germany, when Hamilton and the Mercedes team suffered an ‘Armageddon’ weekend.
– Start of an era –
Hungary, though, was the race that signalled the start of an era likely to be dominated by Red Bull’s 21-year-old duel with the 34-year-old Hamilton, whose achievements and individuality have made him F1’s brightest global star.
Many observers believe already that Hamilton and Verstappen are from another planet, such was their superiority at the Hungaroring where they were more than a minute clear of the two Ferraris and lapped the rest of the field.
That has led to much ‘silly season’ speculation that they might fit into the same team –- a scenario that Red Bull’s mid-season improvement may render redundant and, ultimately, undesirable.
“I’m really happy that after a period of time when everyone was so negative, talking about the sport, we get this big step up from the Red Bulls and now we have a really good battle on our hands, and it looks like it will stay,” said Hamilton.
“I think Ferrari will come back into play at some races like Spa and Monza and be quick on the straights — and there aren’t a lot of corners — so those places I think they will be really strong.
“But Red Bull have been doing great. It’s awesome to see and I hope their performance continues and I really, really hope we have more battles like that.”
Hamilton’s praise for his rival included recognition of the respect that exists between them despite a 13-year age gap, a welcome feature after so many acrimonious rivalries of the past.
“Max is at his best and is continuing to perform great,” said Hamilton.
“It’s really comforting and really important to see the respect level between us. It was really respectful driving and I hope to continue that.”
Not so long ago the Dutchman was known as Mad Max — now it is a case of Maturing Max.
“If we were fighting on the same points, it may have been a lot more aggressive,” said Hamilton.
“But there was no need for that and it was really just about making sure that when you do finally pull off an overtaking manoeuvre that it is a clean, full sweep by.”
Hamilton and Verstappen will have some time to put their feet up and consider their new rivalry. The next race is at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on September 1.