Hamilton wants closer fight with young rivals

Lewis Hamilton has said he’s impressed by youngsters Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, and hopes to enjoy a closer battle with them going forward.

While the Brit has battled the two on track, neither has had a strong enough car to consistently challenge Hamilton in the Championship.

This has briefly changed in recent times however in the case of Max Verstappen, who has won two of the last four races and enjoyed a titanic fight with Hamilton in Hungary.

“We’ve seen a big step with Red Bull. They’ve really taken a leap forward with their [Honda] power unit this year and it’s pretty great to see,” Hamilton said to the official Formula 1 website.

“They’re going to go from strength to strength and Max is naturally just… he’s not a youngster necessarily in the sport anymore. While he’s young, he’s been here for a few years.”

While Leclerc hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success as the Dutchman, he’s been a precious few laps away from victories in Bahrain and Austria.

“Charles is only in his second season, so he’s grown and I can only see him getting stronger and we’re already seeing some great performances from him this season and that one is definitely one to watch out for,” Hamilton added.

“Whether or not Ferrari are going to pick up their pace, I don’t know. They’re kind of up and down at the moment – last year I think it was quite close between three of us, I think Ferrari were slightly quicker.

“I hope it’s close, and I hope it gets closer through the year. I’m always down, I’m always ready.”

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‘Honda were still hurting from the McLaren years’

Max Verstappen believes Honda were still hurting from the McLaren years leading to a “cautious” beginning to the Red Bull relationship in 2019.

Honda returned to Formula 1 with McLaren in 2015 and, after three unsuccessful years, parted ways.

During that time McLaren and Fernando Alonso blamed Honda for their disappointing results, the Spaniard going as far as to call the Honda power unit a “GP2 engine” during the Japanese manufacturer’s home race.

The end of the McLaren relationship saw Honda initially take on Toro Rosso before Red Bull joined the party this season.

That has already resulted in five podium finishes for Verstappen, including two race wins, as well as a P3 for Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat.

With three of his top-three results coming in the last three races, Verstappen explained the upturn in form to Autosport: “I think the engine we started to take more out of it, because I felt like Honda didn’t want to break down.

“You can see we are pushing a bit harder, but it’s still fine.

“But after all the negative stuff they had at McLaren with all the engines blowing up and other things, they were a bit careful, and I think that is the right approach.”

The improvements, though, haven’t only come from Honda.

“Obviously we had our own little issues at the beginning of the year with the car not being exactly what we wanted it to be for some reason,” Verstappen said.

“We kept working hard, the factory also kept pushing very hard with new parts for the car very quickly, reacting.

“Of course Adrian [Newey] being on top of it, and I think very quickly we sorted out a car which was again really nice to drive.

“From Austria onwards, when we brought a few new bits, that seemed to be a turnaround for us, where we could finally really start pushing the car.”

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Leclerc ‘wouldn’t even say goodbye’ to Verstappen

Charles Leclerc says he and Max Verstappen would not speak to one another as children but has rubbished claims that they have a poor relationship today.

Verstappen denied Leclerc a victory at this year’s Austrian Grand Prix, overtaking the Ferrari driver on the penultimate lap.

It was a robust move from the Red Bull man, resulting in the two banging wheels and Leclerc being punted off the track.

But while the Monégasque driver was not impressed at the time, two weeks later he was again racing Verstappen – this time with his own elbows out.

Asked in an wide-ranging interview with Corriere della Sera if the two “can’t stand” each other, Leclerc replied: “No.

“As children we wouldn’t even say goodbye to each other because we confused the driver with the persona, we were immature.

“Now we no longer mix the two, fortunately.”

Austria, though, was not the only time this season that Leclerc was denied a win.

He was on track for P1 at the Bahrain Grand Prix before his Ferrari engine dropped a cylinder and he fell to third.

Asked which of the two hurt the most, he said: “In Austria Max had more, and I struggled to keep up with him.

“In Bahrain, it was a bit difficult to accept, but in the end, as I have been driving since I was three, I immediately turned the page.

“In this sport you always go to the limit, it is normal that you can break something.

“You know this risk exists, otherwise, you stay at home.”

Leclerc, though, has also cost himself points at times, making mistakes such as his Baku qualifying crash and his DNF at the German GP.

“I am hard on myself,” he said when asked if the mistakes weigh on him.

“Not only the one in Germany where I crashed in the wet, even in Baku I made a mistake and I felt it so much.

“It always happens like this when it’s my fault.”

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