MAX VERSTAPPEN claims he would have been world champion “long ago” had he been driving Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes supercar.
The Dutchman has made no secret of the fact he feels he’s been victimised by race stewards as his 19-point advantage was wiped out in the last three races.
Max Verstappen believes he’s been unfairly treated in the neck-and-neck title raceCredit: Rex
This Mercedes could have given Max Verstappen the title already, had he been driving it, according to the Red Bull aceCredit: AP
But the Red Bull racer is under no doubt as to who has been the best driver in 2021, given his rival’s superior car.
Verstappen said: “You should think like that if you are a Formula One driver, so I say yes.
“But I don’t need to hear that from anyone else. I don’t need that recognition. I find it much more important what I think and what people who are close to me think.
“If I had been in his car, the season would have been decided long ago.”
That is some shade thrown in Hamilton’s, direction given the two have often traded accusations about the legality of each other’s car all season.
Hamilton was quick to question Red Bull’s rear wing while Verstappen himself picked up a £43,000 fine for breaking F1 rules and touching the Merc rear wing in parc ferme in Brazil.
Clearly the suspicion over whether the Merc is completely within the rules remains and Red Bull boss failed to rule out the possibility of a protest on Sunday in Abu Dhabi when he was asked directly by SunSport on Thursday.
Such is the bitterness that now runs between the two teams, Verstappen cannot even bring himself to say Hamilton’s name.
After it was pointed out to him, he confirmed: “That’s right. That happens during a season like this. Too much has happened for that.
“Not just through that moment [the first lap crash at Silverstone], but throughout the season. The image I have of certain people has changed. And no, not in a positive way.
“It doesn’t matter to me, it’s not that I hate it. But I’ve seen that when the pressure comes on, certain people show a different face. Then their true colours come out.”
Verstappen has been warned by the FIA that he must keep the fight clean – or risk being hit with a points penalty.
If I had been in his car, the season would have been decided long ago.
It was an unprecedented step from the race stewards to remind the drivers of their conduct ahead of this finale in Abu Dhabi.
However, Verstappen says he will NOT be changing his tactics having taken pole for Sunday’s crunch race.
He said in an interview with De Telegraaf: “I don’t want to take him out, I want to beat him. That’s another word. Some people find me aggressive, others very aggressive and some people don’t.
“I am myself. The last races I have to defend more because we are a bit slower. I don’t have the luxury of pulling away in the lead now.
Lewis Hamilton must beat Max Verstappen in the final race to retain the titleCredit: Getty
“Yes, I do everything I can to win. If I don’t think like that, I’d better stay home.
“If I hadn’t had that attitude, we wouldn’t be here with an equal number of points. Then he would already be the champion.”
There was a clear sense of relief on Saturday as Verstappen took pole with a comfortable 0.371 second advantage over Hamilton.
He celebrated with a clenched fist while his rival was already starting his debrief into his own performance.
Former world champion, Nico Rosberg, says he could not sleep before his duel with Hamilton in 2016 – and last night, Verstappen was looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep.
He added: “I was very relaxed going into qualifying.
“I always do the best I can and I know my team always gives me the best possible car.
An amazing battle. I am grateful I have had such a close battle with Max and his team.
“We have been doing that already the whole year and again, it worked really well. This year we have been pushing each other to the limit.
“We really are trying to get everything out of our cars to the last lap, the last corner. It has been really enjoyable for most of the time.
“In 20 years time myself and people will look back on it and remember this year.”
Even Hamilton had to agree with his rival that this season has been a titanic tussle for the title.
He said: “It has been an incredible year. An amazing battle. I am grateful I have had such a close battle with Max and his team.
“They have done an exceptional job, shown true strength and pushed us to the limit in ways that we needed, I hope we have many more seasons like this.”