Belfast Telegraph

Verstappen unfazed by Hamilton comparison

Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen

By Ian Parkes

Max Verstappen says he does not care if people think he is a better driver than Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen arrived in Hungary for the concluding round before Formula One's summer break as arguably the sport's pound-for-pound star.

The Dutchman, still only 21, has won two of the last three races, including his sublime drive to victory at the recent rain-hit German Grand Prix.

He has finished in the top five at the last 20 rounds. No driver outside of Hamilton's all-conquering Mercedes team has scored more points than Verstappen in the last year.

Verstappen's boss Christian Horner raised eyebrows when he said ahead of last month's British Grand Prix that his driver would beat Hamilton if they were in identical machinery.

Former world champions Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg, old team-mates of Hamilton's, have both since echoed Horner's sentiments. Indeed, Rosberg claimed that Verstappen would be leading Hamilton in the Championship if he traded in his Red Bull for a Mercedes.

"I don't say anything about this and I don't care," said Verstappen, 63 points behind Hamilton in the standings. "For me, the most important thing is to perform on track.

"I made a big jump into Formula One and I made mistakes when I started. I am still getting better.

"I am only 21 and you learn how to become better through experience."

Horner et al could be accused of jumping the gun. Verstappen has won seven races. Hamilton, who is 42 points clear of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, is this year closing in on his sixth world title. He has 80 victories, too.

Verstappen is Formula One's youngest starter, controversially just 17, and without a road licence, when he made his debut. He is the sport's youngest winner, at 18, when he triumphed in his first appearance for Red Bull in Spain in 2017.

Verstappen's orange army follow him across Europe. Such is Verstappen's pull that remarkably one million people have applied for tickets at his home race in Holland next May.

A ballot will now be held for the 110,000 seats available at the Zandvoort race, Holland's first grand prix in 36 years.

Mercedes are courting Verstappen and there has been a suggestion they could move for the Dutch star as early as next year, putting him alongside Hamilton in a blockbuster line-up.

It seems unlikely with 18 months still to run on Verstappen's £20million-a-year deal at Red Bull.

"I have not heard from Lewis saying he wants to join Red Bull," Horner joked when asked if such a driver pairing would be good for the sport.

"You can see both the positives and the negatives in that scenario.

"Max is still a young guy. He has been driving at a very high standard and he delivered a phenomenal performance last weekend to keep his head in varying conditions.

"Max is arguably the most in-form driver on the grid. His situation with us is clear."

Verstappen trailed Hamilton in yesterday's opening practice at the Hungaroring, the only session to take place in dry conditions.

The 34-year-old reigning world champion finished 0.165 seconds clear as the Mercedes star, who was back on track following his Hockenheim horror show, goes in search of his seventh win here.

The London-born Thai Alexander Albon, meanwhile, crashed out of the rain-interrupted second session after he lost control of his Toro Rosso through the final corner.

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