Lewis Hamilton has insisted he is not wilting under pressure in his Formula One world championship fight with Max Verstappen. Hamilton made an uncharacteristic and costly mistake at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix but, speaking before Sunday’s French race, said he remained relaxed and had dismissed the incident. The world champion also entered the debate over recent tyres failures, intimating that rival teams, not manufacturer Pirelli, were responsible.
Hamilton had been set to take a likely second place in Baku when he accidentally nudged the button adjusting his brake bias on a restart causing him to lock up, go off and finish in 15th. He trails Red Bull’s Verstappen by four points in the championship, the first time the two have been in a title race.
Hamilton also went off at the Emilia Romagna GP, misjudging the grip on cold tyres. The incidents were notable because he so rarely displays flaws. He wryly noted Verstappen had already gone out with a tyre failure when his mistake occurred in Baku and denied the Dutchman’s challenge for the title was influencing his driving.
“It definitely wasn’t under pressure from Max, I don’t even count it as a mistake,” he said. “I don’t feel any pressure, I feel pretty relaxed. You can’t always be perfect, a mistake is when you drive off the track through missing your braking point or going off hitting the wall but this wasn’t one.
“It was an unforced error, it was something we had that could have happened at any point. Unfortunately, it hit us pretty hard but we learned from the experience and we move forward.”
Hamilton revealed the team have now placed a shroud over the button on the steering wheel so it cannot be activated accidentally.
Verstappen and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll suffered left-rear tyre blowouts at high speed on the main straight in Baku, with the drivers lucky to emerge unscathed from hitting the barriers. Pirelli investigated and cited “running conditions” as responsible, with an intimation that teams were attempting to get around the temperature and pressure limits set by the manufacturer.
The FIA has now instigated higher pressures and new temperature checks for this weekend,. Hamilton believed this was evidence the fault lay with teams. “As you know, whenever there is a failure, they always put the pressures up, that tells you something,” he said.
“More often than not, [it’s] that the tyres are not being run at the pressures that are being asked. We didn’t have a problem with our tyres. I think they’ve done a great job with the tyres this year, they’re more robust than before, and in this particular instance I don’t think Pirelli are at fault.”
Verstappen countered by saying his team followed all of Pirelli’s instructions. “We gave them our pressures and they were within the limits they set. “If those limits are not correct there is nothing we can do about it and also Aston Martin didn’t do anything wrong, so they cannot put the blame on us.”