ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Max Verstappen said his opinion of Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes team has gone down during their championship fight in 2021.
Verstappen and Hamilton have collided on track three times this season and go into the final race of the year, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, level on points. Verstappen will win in the event of a tie due to having one more win this season.
Those collisions have been controversial, the first of them at the British Grand Prix really changed the tone of the title fight.
Verstappen was sent into a heavy crash with the barriers after colliding with Hamilton as they battled for the lead on the opening lap.
Hamilton overcame a 10-second time penalty from that incident to win the race. On top of a few other things, Verstappen and Red Bull were angry at how Hamilton and Mercedes celebrated the victory while he was still receiving precautionary checkups in hospital.
Hamilton is the most successful driver in F1 history in terms of race victories and is looking for a record eighth championship this weekend, but Verstappen said he thinks less of the British driver now than he did before the season.
When asked in a media Zoom call on Thursday if his opinion of Hamilton and Mercedes had changed this year during their battle, Verstappen said: “Yes very much, and not in a positive way.”
The title fight will be decided on Dec. 12. Given the tense nature of the title battle so far, there are fears the championship will be decided by a crash.
FIA race director Michael Masi issued a reminder of the rules ahead of this weekend’s race, stating the drivers can be punished with a points deduction or race ban if they are deemed to have intentionally crashed into their rival to win the championship.
While that might appear to be aimed at Verstappen given his tie-break lead, Hamilton would only need to finish 10th if Verstappen did not finish the race.
In the Zoom call, a journalist made a mistake and asked Verstappen if he “will congratulate Max” if he wins the title on Sunday.
Verstappen laughed and said: “I will congratulate myself, yeah”.
When the journalist corrected themselves and asked if he would congratulate Hamilton if he won, Verstappen said: “If everything goes fair, for sure.”
Verstappen also hinted at suspicions of the legality of Mercedes’ car earlier in the season. In Brazil Red Bull argued Mercedes’ rear wing was not acting within the regulations, although that part of the car passed FIA legality tests which followed that accusation.
“Of course checks will always be carried out,” Verstappen said. “Unfortunately we can’t check again the car and how it was in previous races throughout the season, because definitely some things were going on. But it is what it is.”
After Verstappen’s open media call, he sat alongside Hamilton in the FIA press conference for the weekend. However, Verstappen’s quotes in that on Hamilton were very restrained in comparison to what he had said a few hours earlier.