Lewis Hamilton says Max Verstappen’s comments are ‘a sign of weakness’

• Reigning champion in confident mood as he tests new W11 car
• ‘Lewis loves the challenge’, says Mercedes principal Toto Wolff

Lewis Hamilton brushed off recent comments from Max Verstappen as “weakness” and vowed to do his talking on the track as Mercedes unveiled their new car on Friday.

The British driver, chasing a record-equalling seventh Formula One title, displayed a steely determination at the car launch and is clearly eager to climb behind the wheel and take the fight to F1’s young guns.

Hamilton and his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, both drove the new Mercedes W11 in a shakedown at Silverstone, before the serious business of testing begins in Barcelona on Wednesday. Last season, F1’s new generation of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc showed they were not intimidated by the 35-year-old Hamilton. Verstappen, 22 , insisted recently that with the right machinery he could beat the British driver. “Lewis is very good,” he said. “He is definitely one of the best out there but he is not God. Maybe God is with him, but he is not God.”

At Silverstone a smiling Hamilton responded dismissively with the confidence of a driver in the form of his life. “I find it funny seeing that,” he said. “I have just always known to do my talking on the track. I tend to see that as a sign of weakness.”

With six titles, including five in the last six years, Hamilton is within touching distance of Michael Schumacher’s record tally of seven. He is also only seven wins behind Schumacher’s 91 and four podiums behind the German’s 155, both F1 records. During a period characterised largely by Mercedes’ dominance Hamilton has won at least nine races every year for the last six years.

The team principal, Toto Wolff, believes his driver is relishing the forthcoming fight. “I perceive that he feels that he is at the peak of his abilities,” he said. “But that he also needs constant improvement and development in order to stay on top. The most important factor is that he loves the challenge. He loves the challenge of trying to beat the next generation of potential superstars. The tougher the challenge, the happier he is.”

Last season Hamilton enjoyed a blistering start to his title defence, winning eight of the opening 12 races, a run that left the opposition reeling. When the W11 hit the track for the first time, however, he maintained there was no room for complacency.

“I’ve had the best winter training yet,” he said. “Over the winter, I’ve really been trying to analyse where we were last year and how I can grow and improve as a driver and as a human being. I’ve really been trying to focus on how can I take it to another level as a driver, how can I extract more from myself and from the team, and trying to deliver something really great this year.

“This is my eighth year with this team and this year’s challenge is super exciting. I have no doubt every single team member will try to raise the bar within themselves and I’ll be trying to do the same.”

Mercedes can expect to be competitive from the off once more. With the regulations stable, their new car is an evolution of last year’s model that proved so successful. Hamilton and Bottas won 15 of the 21 races in 2019 to complete a remarkable record of six consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships. No team has won seven constructors’ titles in succession, a record Mercedes will pursue vigorously but without taking their recent form for granted.

“We feel no sense of entitlement to win races or championships,” said Wolff. “We know that we need to fight extremely hard for that as we had to in every year. This has been our mindset from the beginning.”

Both Ferrari and Red Bull finished last season with stronger performances but know they must step up to compete with Mercedes. Since the team returned to F1 10 years ago, they have amassed a formidable record. During that time they have 93 wins and 48 one-twos. Hamilton’s buoyancy at finally getting behind the wheel of the new car was entirely unsurprising.


Giles Richards

The GuardianTramp

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