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Hamilton has gone down in Verstappen's estimations

By Tom Patey

Abu Dhabi, December 9: Max Verstappen's opinion of Lewis Hamilton has changed for the worse during their dramatic title tussle across the 2021 season.

The two drivers head into the final race of the Formula One campaign with the title on the line after Hamilton won the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to move level on points with the Dutchman in the drivers' championship.

Verstappen has the advantage as the pair prepare to meet in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, with the Red Bull driver holding the edge on races won (9-8), which means he will clinch his first title if Hamilton does not better his result.

The two contenders have endured a tumultuous relationship throughout the year after colliding three times, the most recent of those coming last weekend when the Briton hit the back of Verstappen's car.

Verstappen, though, incurred a 10-second time penalty for slowing down without due caution – to compound an earlier five-second punishment for gaining an advantage by leaving the track – and Hamilton could be heard on the radio furiously questioning his opponent's behaviour.

Asked whether his opinion of Hamilton, who is aiming for a record eighth championship triumph, and Mercedes had changed during the season, Verstappen said on Thursday: "Yes, very much so and not in a positive way.

"Clearly only I was wrong somehow [for the collision in Saudi Arabia], like I said other people do exactly the same thing and get nothing.

"Both of us were off the track into turn one and somehow they judged that it was my fault, that I don't agree with.

"The other penalty [causing the collision] as well I don't agree with, then afterwards [Hamilton] pushes me off the track, he even looks at me, he doesn't turn in, he just pushes me outside the white line, the track edge, and he only gets a warning for that.

"It's not how it should be, it's not fair because it seems like other drivers can do different things, and it seems like only I get a penalty."

Before the weekend's finale, FIA director Michael Masi issued a reminder of the rules, stating drivers can be punished with a points deduction if they are deemed to have intentionally crashed into their rival.

Masi added that stewards may decide to impose race bans for any untoward behaviour, but Verstappen insisted he would congratulate Hamilton if he wins fairly, even if he would not sit down for dinner with him.

"I don't think we need to sit down," Verstappen told reporters at the news conference. "We are both here to win.

"I will do of course everything to win and win the championship, whatever is necessary in terms of points.

"I think we have raced really well together the whole year and I think we have put on a great show for everyone at the end of the day. So hopefully we can do that here."

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Story first published: Thursday, December 9, 2021, 21:40 [IST]
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