Max Verstappen dispels overly-confident claims with honest Lewis Hamilton admission

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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen admits he didn’t always feel like he had the championship “in the bag” this season despite his cool exterior during his intense Lewis Hamilton battle. Verstappen and Hamilton fought all season for the title, which was eventually decided on the last lap of the last race in Abu Dhabi in a hugely controversial manner.

Nonetheless, the Dutchman was crowned champion and denied Hamilton an eighth world title at Yas Marina.

But the 24-year-old, whose calm exterior was the focus of much attention throughout the season, admitted it wasn’t all plain sailing.

Asked when he really started to believe he could beat Hamilton, Verstappen responded: “It’s difficult [to say] because I was in the lead, and back to second, and then in the lead again.

“There was never a point where I thought, ‘Okay, we’ve got it in the bag’, because every race I could either win or be second.

“It was all about the attention of details where you could make the difference in terms of winning or being second.”

Hamilton and Verstappen were tied on points heading into the final race of the season in one of the most dramatic seasons in Formula One history.

Crossing the line to win the race in one of the most contentious season finales, Verstappen was noticeably moved on the team radio in a rare show of raw emotion from the 24-year-old.

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“I always stayed very neutral, because you don’t know what the others are doing or how much they’re hiding,” Verstappen said.

“But I think the positive was that I felt I had a good balance in the car [in pre-season testing] and I was feeling very comfortable with the car.

“In the first race, it really looked good. But again, I was like, ‘Well, maybe it’s just the track’, because throughout the season you have a few tracks where the car can be a bit better than others.

“I think what was very important from that point onwards was just to be neutral, not to be too positive or negative – I always stayed in the middle.”

Hamilton and Verstappen locked horns for much of the season, but one comment, in particular, seemed to get under the Dutchman’s skin this season.

Speaking ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, just after Verstappen had been punished for the pair tangling during the Italian Grand Prix, there was some suggestion the pressure was starting to get to the Dutchman.

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At the time, Hamilton sympathised with Verstappen, admitting he knew the pressures of fighting for his first title.

He said: “Naturally, we are battling for a championship. I remember what it was like battling for my first championship and obviously I’m fighting for something like my 10th battle. I remember what it was like and the pressure and experiences that you go with, so I empathise with that.

“I think what is important is that we continue to race hard, but fair. I have no doubts that we will both be professional and learn from the past.

“Obviously [Max] won’t admit to it and I’m not going to make an assumption but I’m just saying I remember what it was like when I had my first one and it definitely mounted up. It was difficult, it was intense, I was going through a lot of different emotions, I didn’t always handle it the best and that’s to be expected.

“There’s a lot of pressure, you’re working in a big team, there’s a lot of self-expectation and pressure because the desire to win is huge. So I’m just saying I empathise and I understand that, but I know that we will continue to grow from this.”

Verstappen had the comments put to him in the press conference besides George Russell, who is due to be Hamilton’s team-mate at Mercedes next season, and joked: “Yeah, I’m so nervous I can barely sleep. I mean it’s so horrible to fight for a title.

“I think if someone knows me, they think I’m very relaxed about all those things, and I really can’t be bothered, you know.

“I’m very chilled and it’s the best feeling ever to have a car, a great car, where you go into every weekend and you can fight for a win. It doesn’t matter if you’re just leading a championship or not.

“I think those comments I mean, it just shows you that he really doesn’t know me. Which is fine, I mean I also don’t need to know him, fully.

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