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Sport How Verstappen became Hamilton's biggest threat

18:54  12 january  2018
18:54  12 january  2018 Source:   msn.com

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Lewis Hamilton reckons F1' s "four strongest drivers" are himself, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Max Verstappen . Here' s how the 20-year-old earned his place alongside three world champions.

Of all the current drivers on the Formula 1 grid, you can bet Lewis Hamilton is most wary of Max Verstappen . At the end of last season, when asked

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, left, of Britain takes a selfie with second placed Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands as he celebrates winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017.© Eugene Hoshiko Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, left, of Britain takes a selfie with second placed Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands as he celebrates winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017.

Lewis Hamilton reckons F1's "four strongest drivers" are himself, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Max Verstappen. Here's how the 20-year-old earned his place alongside three world champions.

Of all the current drivers on the Formula 1 grid, you can bet Lewis Hamilton is most wary of Max Verstappen. At the end of last season, when asked about the drivers he would most need to watch if all had roughly equal cars, Hamilton confirmed the names of three rivals he felt were operating at a similar level. Verstappen was right there, alongside Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.

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How Verstappen became Hamilton ' s biggest threat .

Of all the current drivers on the Formula 1 grid, you can bet Lewis Hamilton is most wary of Max Verstappen . At the end of last season, when asked

"We're the four strongest drivers," said Hamilton, who described Alonso as the "toughest driver there is". Many would agree. But until the Renault-powered teams properly get their act together, Ferrari star Vettel is the most likely to have the chance to put Hamilton under immediate pressure.

Given Verstappen is the only non-champion among this group, and has so far 'only' won three grands prix, you'd naturally expect Hamilton to focus less intently on the Red Bull driver. But Hamilton has now taken on and beaten Vettel in a proper championship fight, exposing his fellow four-time world champion's occasional mental fragility in the heat of battle.

Vettel crumbled in Azerbaijan and was outraced in America. Hamilton will feel he has the measure of his 2017 adversary.

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Of all the current drivers on the Formula 1 grid, you can bet Lewis Hamilton is most wary of Max Verstappen . At the end of last season, when asked about the drivers he would most need to watch if all had roughly equal cars

Of all the current drivers on the Formula 1 grid, you can bet Lewis Hamilton is most wary of Max Verstappen . Hamilton : Bottas has ‘earned his place’ at Mercedes. May 2, 2018. Brawn: Ricciardo became ‘a passenger’.

Hamilton defeated Alonso on countback in 2007, when they were McLaren team-mates and Hamilton was an F1 rookie, so Hamilton will probably back himself if and when Alonso returns to the fight in a worthy car, regardless of the "mighty" racecraft Hamilton feels Alonso possesses, and which Alonso reminded Hamilton and the rest of us of in Mexico last year.

Verstappen is still the great unknown quantity for Hamilton at present - a fearsome hurricane of outlandish speed, supreme car control, ruthless racecraft, and - most importantly - undiscovered potential. As Christian Horner says, Verstappen is "probably the most exciting talent to hit Formula 1 since Lewis Hamilton".

Although Hamilton already recognises Verstappen's "very impressive" racecraft, and that Verstappen is doing "wonderful things" for a driver of such inexperience, Hamilton doesn't yet have Verstappen's true measure in the same way he does the others.

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Of all the current drivers on the Formula 1 grid, you can bet Lewis Hamilton is most wary of Max Verstappen . How Formula 1’ s big three diverged in Baku.

How Verstappen became Hamilton ' s biggest threat Lewis Hamilton reckons F1's "four strongest drivers" are himself, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Max Verstappen .

True, they enjoyed a few brief skirmishes in 2017, but the dice were always loaded too far one way or the other. Verstappen briefly challenged Hamilton at a restart in Canada, but that power track was way too much for Renault and Verstappen's car broke down anyway. They went wheel-to-wheel again in Malaysia and Mexico, but Hamilton had the championship to think of, while Verstappen had little to lose.

These are mere glimpses. Hamilton won't have the full picture until Verstappen is plunged into the full cut and thrust of a championship fight. But Hamilton rightly recognises the potential. Several times, he's singled out Verstappen for praise.

Their battle in Malaysia was skewed by Hamilton's conservatism and an ERS de-rate on his Mercedes engine, but after Verstappen finished just 1.2s behind in Japan, Hamilton praised the "great job" Red Bull's prodigy was doing in pushing him so hard.

When Verstappen dominated the Mexican Grand Prix as Hamilton claimed his fourth world championship, Hamilton called Verstappen "an exceptional driver" with "awesome" racecraft, "a potential world champion" who is "only going to get stronger with age because he has a lot of raw talent".

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How Verstappen became Hamilton ’ s biggest threat . January 12, 2018. Richards warns losing British GP would be “a significant threat ” to British motorsport | 2018 F1 season.

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"He has a long way to go, but these wins are only adding to his great potential," Hamilton said. "And I am looking forward to battling with that."

Perhaps Hamilton recognises something of himself in Verstappen - the way they have both risen so precociously. Each is the product of a fearsomely determined father-son project to climb all the way to the top.

Verstappen has not reached the summit yet, while Hamilton has four times now, but Verstappen's rate of progression is still extraordinary - so good as a rookie with Toro Rosso he had to be promoted by Red Bull after just 23 races, having raced only one season in single-seaters prior to F1.

Since then, Verstappen has won three grands prix using inferior equipment, and in 2017 got the better of Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who since '14 has been considered among the most outstanding performers on the grid.

Verstappen became Red Bull's best driver last year, the result of a diligent and methodical process of self-improvement instilled in Verstappen Jr by his former F1 racer father Jos, from Max's earliest days in karting.

Whether it was turning laps in the wet over and over when it seemed there was no point, or pushing always for better and more refined equipment in Formula 3, the Verstappen method is all about pushing constantly, standing up for yourself, and maintaining unrelenting focus on the many small details that combine to equal success.

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How Verstappen became Hamilton ’ s biggest threat . January 12, 2018. Richards warns losing British GP would be “a significant threat ” to British motorsport | 2018 F1 season.

LEWIS HAMILTON ’ S biggest threat on the Formula 1 circuit is Max Verstappen , according to a legendary trainer. Thanks to Vauxhall and Rob Wilson for teaching us how to drive like an F1 racer in an Atra. For more information please visit: www.vauxhall.co.uk.

Verstappen Sr knows he could have enjoyed a far more successful career himself had he known in his youth what he knows now, so he remains determined to use all his experience to help his son. He takes a backseat these days, now Verstappen is an established frontrunner with a top team, but the old lessons are still as relevant as ever.

Whether it's producing a mesmerising charge from the back of the grid in the wet on the first lap in China, or pulling out the qualifying laps that allowed Verstappen to get the better of Ricciardo in 2017, it's all been the product of a carefully crafted plan.

"First laps, cold tyres, slippery, damp - when Max was young and it started to rain, I would always send him out," Jos recalls. "Or you have days testing in the dry and it starts to rain and everyone was packing up and going home, but I stayed there, and we kept going.

"When he was young, and of course he was driving against young people, his first lap was probably between one and two seconds quicker than the others on cold tyres, because he has that feeling, and we practised it all the time.

"We would go to a new track; everyone was worrying about the material [the kart] - what about the engine? No, I didn't care. I always told Max 'you have two laps and the lap time has to be there'. That's what I practised with him, because I knew how important that was for later - you don't have a lot of time. The more pressure he has, the faster he goes. Always."

Everything about Max Verstappen's F1 career suggests he is a young man in a real hurry to reach the top, and Red Bull sees clearly it has an outstanding prospect on its books that is worth bending over backwards to keep. Mercedes' Niki Lauda chided Red Bull motorsport boss Helmut Marko for overpaying to convince Verstappen to sign a new contract, but Red Bull will feel Verstappen is worth every penny.

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He is already in that rarefied category of drivers - which includes Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen - that have won races in something other than the best car. That's Alonso's mark of a top a driver, so Verstappen should be considered as such - particularly given his Mexico victory was earned rather than inherited. Again, this is something Verstappen Sr feels comes naturally to his son thanks to hard work earlier in his career.

"Max has always been special," says Jos, who feels his son's progression at Red Bull in 2017 is down to nothing more than extra experience and greater familiarity with his engineering team. "Seriously, also in Formula 3, they can say whatever, [Esteban] Ocon won the championship [in 2014, pictured below], all the drivers who race with Prema won the championship - even less good drivers.

"We really challenged them a lot, and we would have won if Max hadn't had so much bad luck with the electrical side, the clutches. Also, he blew up an engine; three times a 10-place grid penalty.

"If you look at the race at Spa, then you see why Max is special. He was behind [Ocon, who passed him on the run to Les Combes], goes outside and [repasses him] - that's what makes Max so good."

Verstappen's outstanding racecraft has clearly carried over to F1 and has been evident throughout his three seasons in grand prix racing. This is something Hamilton has always been renowned for too: a never-say-die attitude and expertly precise judgement in the heat of battle. An insatiable will to win driving their every move.

But Verstappen has got himself too regularly into scrapes as well. Twice last season he was lucky to avoid cutting a tyre on the front wing of Vettel's Ferrari. Verstappen got himself taken out in a three-way first-corner collision at Barcelona by risking all on the outside. He clumsily punted his own team-mate off at Turn 2 at the Hungaroring. If there is a weakness there, it is surely Verstappen's capacity for correct risk assessment inside the car when things are not going his way.

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"If you're leading a championship by 50 points, then you can be maybe more patient," Jos counters. "Max had nothing to lose, so he has to go for it, he has to win. Also, he doesn't have an opportunity every race, so he has to pick his moments, then he does like in Mexico, and I think it's really good for Formula 1.

"People want to see that, with three cars into the first corner. And of course, you could see Lewis backed out because he was leading the championship - he doesn't need to take that risk. Max knows that. Vettel is nervous when Max is around, and Max takes a little more risk."

The Verstappens have also taken a risk in recommitting Max's future to Red Bull for at least three more seasons, with no guarantee Red Bull-Renault will provide the necessary tools to topple Mercedes or Ferrari in the near future. But Jos says it's all about repaying the faith Red Bull showed in Max during that breakout Formula 3 season.

"We talked a lot about it with Max - they gave us the chance to come into Formula 1; we have to give them the chance as well," Jos explains. "They know how to build a good car. Max is young, he really fits well in the team, and Red Bull really fits Max very well.

"Red Bull also wants to win, and they will do everything that's possible to do that. I'm worried about the engine. Not enough to leave, but things are changing quick sometimes. We don't want to be making the wrong decisions. When you leave a top team, it's hard to come back.

"You can go to Ferrari or Mercedes. I think Ferrari is maybe too much pressure for a young guy; Mercedes, we will see. Now there is stability, the team is very relaxed, Max also - we're happy where we are."

That happiness will fade quickly if Red Bull doesn't prove up to the task - with Renault engines or otherwise - but whatever happens next, Max Verstappen has put himself firmly in F1's elite bracket - a driver his rivals should fear and respect.

"Drivers know exactly how good other people are," adds Jos. "This is also something Vettel knows. Max is there, and when Max is there, he goes for it. Vettel knows, and that makes him nervous. He's a threat. That's what happened in Singapore. He knew if he lost into the first corner, Max had a good chance of winning.

"It's all good for Max. Whatever happens, Max's name has grown so much. They all know he will be there all the time, and that's good. And he will get better and better. It's all about experience. He definitely doesn't know everything yet, so that's why he will get better. His time will come, I'm 100% sure."

No wonder Hamilton is maintaining a watching brief. Of all the potential threats out there, Verstappen looks the most likely to topple Hamilton from his throne if circumstances allow.

It seems Verstappen has Hamilton levels of skill, a work ethic to rival Vettel, and a ruthless racecraft and will to win that would make Alonso proud. Verstappen is potentially unstoppable, someone certainly capable of pushing 2017's world champion to even greater heights than he has reached already.

Hamilton is right to take note, because Verstappen is coming for him.

Hamilton, Flames beat Hurricanes 4-1 for 7th win in row .
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