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Lewis Hamilton suggests Max Verstappen is struggling under title scrap pressure

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen (Tim Goode/Bradley Collyer/PA)
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen (Tim Goode/Bradley Collyer/PA)

Lewis Hamilton has claimed Max Verstappen is struggling to cope with the pressure of fighting for his maiden world championship – as the war of words between Formula One’s rivals escalated in Russia.

Hamilton and Verstappen will go head-to-head at Sochi’s Olympic Park on Sunday, a fortnight after their second coming together of the sport’s hottest title battle in recent memory.

Verstappen will serve a three-place grid penalty for the Monza collision.

Hamilton, 36, is in the midst of his 10th serious challenge for top honours, while Verstappen, 13 years the Briton’s junior, is a real contender for the first time in his seven-season career.

Hamilton and Verstappen crashed in Monza
Hamilton and Verstappen crashed in Monza (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Asked if cracks were beginning to show in his rival’s armoury, seven-time world champion Hamilton said: “Obviously he won’t admit to it and I’m not going to make an assumption, but I’m just saying that I remember what it was like battling for my first championship.

“The pressure definitely mounted up. It was difficult. It was intense. I was going through a lot of different emotions and I didn’t always handle it the best and that’s to be expected.

“I know the pressure that comes with it and the experiences so I can empathise with that.

“I do believe that he will continue to get stronger and I’m hopeful we won’t have any more incidences through the year.

“I never expect a driver to back down. What’s important is that we just continue to race hard and fair and I have no doubts that we will both be professional and learn from the past.”

Responding to Hamilton’s comments, a jilted Verstappen, who holds a five-point lead with eight races remaining, said with heavy sarcasm: “I’m so nervous I can barely sleep. It’s so horrible to fight for a title. I really hate it.

“Those comments just show that he really doesn’t know me. Which is fine. I also don’t need to know him.”

Hamilton said he was grateful to be alive after Verstappen’s Red Bull landed on top of his Mercedes at the Italian Grand Prix.

The safety halo device absorbed the impact of Verstappen’s 750 kilograms machine, sparing Hamilton from a devastating injury.

In the hours after the race, Hamilton flew to New York to attend the Met Gala, with Red Bull motorsport adviser Helmut Marko suggesting the British driver had exaggerated the extent of his injuries.

Verstappen's car ended up on top of Hamilto
Verstappen’s car ended up on top of Hamilton (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

“I don’t really listen to what these individuals talk about,” said Hamilton.

“It’s natural when a car lands on your head that you’re going to have some sort of discomfort.

“I definitely felt some pain after the race. I said I was going to have it checked out. I worked with [physio] Angela Cullen straight after the race and during the flight. I had check-ups the next day and then we just worked on it through the week with acupuncture.

“I didn’t say I was dying. I was just aware that in a millisecond anything can happen.”

Meanwhile, the organisers of the inaugural Miami Grand Prix have confirmed their race will be staged on May 8 next season.

F1 bosses are finalising next year’s 23-race calendar which is set to be announced in the coming weeks.

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