JONATHAN McEVOY: Is all of Max getting to you? Verstappen raises his middle finger at Lewis Hamilton
JONATHAN McEVOY: Is all of Max getting to you? Verstappen raises his middle finger at his title rival Lewis Hamilton as the enormity of the challenge facing the Dutchman appears to be just beginning.
- Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton went wheel-to-wheel at Austin practice
- Verstappen was visibly upset with his title rival and cursed the Brit
- The Dutchman has the best chance of his career so far to topple Hamilton
- However, our F1 correspondent hopes the seven-time champion will triumph
- The pair were involved in high-profile collisions at Silverstone and Monza.
- Hamilton is used to friction after several clashes with Nico Rosberg
Do not tell
It was a finger, just a brief flash of anger, but he told us over a million feigned words about how the pressure built up in the most exciting championship fight in recent times is alive and biting.
The moment came here in Austin on Friday when Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen went wheel-to-wheel down the main straight in practice.
Hamilton, driving aggressively, gave his Dutch rival no quarter. Verstappen was unimpressed and called the seven-time world champion a “stupid idiot” before flipping the middle digit in protest.
Max Verstappen called Lewis Hamilton a ‘stupid jerk’ after title rivals clashed in practice
Verstappen (left) went off the track exiting the last corner with Hamilton very close
The duo then battled for track position and headed down the main straight in practice.
If not to applaud, instinct was understandable. This is the defining competition of Verstappen’s career, as he is finally in a position to prove himself in a Red Bull that can match the previously impregnable Mercedes machine.
“It won’t change my life,” Verstappen insists of the championship result, but of course it will.
Yes, at 24, he has years on his side, but again Hamilton won his first title in his second season with McLaren in 2008 at the age of 23.
Verstappen is a brilliant driver, probably the fastest man on the track. It brings a raw edge, your elbows always out.
He never gives an inch no matter the consequences. Hamilton, still super fast at 36, is the cleanest rider with a natural instinct, honed by experience, that dictates when to colonize the asphalt and when to give it up.
For now, in my opinion, that puts Hamilton a bit ahead of the suitor who would dethrone him.
Hamilton won his first world title in 2008 at age 23, a year younger than Verstappen.
Already twice this season, the dueling couple have been involved in massive and potentially dangerous collisions.
First, at Silverstone, a 180 mph hit that left Verstappen in shock. The stewards held Hamilton responsible.
At Monza, a relatively slower bypass but one that ended Verstappen’s wheel just a fraction of Hamilton’s head.
The Briton won at Silverstone after a clash with Verstappen put the Dutchman in hospital
The ‘halo’ device saved the Briton from possible death in what was perhaps the most serious accident, if not the fastest, of his 15-year career.
When will Max learn? commentator John Watson mused, noting what he considered the self-destructive kamikaze approach of the scintillating Verstappen.
A distinctive advantage for Hamilton is that he has been in these battles before. He is a survivor, if somewhat bruised, of bitter rivalries.
Hamilton then escaped catastrophe when Verstappen ran over him at Monza.
Although he has gotten too far away in recent years, even he would agree with that, we must never forget how in his rookie season he faced the power of reigning two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, a truly brilliant rider. and he equaled him on points and beat him on the countdown.
Then there was the acrimony between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. One was an undisputed giant of F1; the other screwed every fiber of his being to undermine the genius of his adversary.
Rosberg triumphed in 2016 and walked away from the sport knowing that he could never improve Lewis again while maintaining his sanity.
Hamilton had several clashes with Nico Rosberg as they competed for supremacy at Mercedes
That wake-up call spurred Hamilton onto the highest peaks he has ever conquered, certainly since he came like a starburst all those legendary years before. He married the experience with the best of his gifts in the long summer of his talents.
Hamilton may not be the driver he was now, just half a percent less, it’s true, nothing more than a little worn out. Regardless, I still believe that his greater calm at the wheel, aided by an upgraded Mercedes, will win the day.