Lewis Hamilton ‘I Love This Battle We’re Having’

It was an incredible race weekend for Lewis Hamilton, who brought the pain in Spain as he claimed the 100th pole position of his career, before going on to make it race win number 96, and three wins from four races in 2021.

The Spanish Grand Prix is often something of a tepid affair, but that was far from the case in the 2021 instalment, as pole-sitter Hamilton and Max Verstappen went shoulder-to-shoulder into the opening corner, with the Dutchman gaining the ascendancy and opening up a lead.

It set up an intriguing battle between the two, and it was a tactical masterclass from Mercedes to move Hamilton to a two-stop strategy and give him an opportunity to pass Verstappen in the closing stages, setting up the race win.

Bold Strategy Pays Off

Making a second stop appeared to be a bold strategy, with the smart-money saying the race would be a one-stopper. However, victory often goes to the brave, and that was the case from Hamilton on Sunday.

‘First, I want to acknowledge all the fans that are here because this is one of the first races, the first race this year at least, that we’ve had people come which is great to see. There’s even a British flag there, which we haven’t seen for a long, long time. I feel great after this. I feel like I could go again. Obviously the training is paying off. It was such a close start, obviously there was a lot of rubber down on the right hand side and the Red Bull obviously got a great start. After that I was just hunting. And I was so close for so long and I didn’t think in doing that I was going to be able to make the tyres last but I was just able to keep them in somehow and it was a long way to come back from some 20 odd seconds back but it was a good gamble, a really great strategy from the team.’

‘It had been the plan all weekend, to make sure we had two mediums to do a two-stop. Even though a one-stop potentially looks better, I know from experience here that a one-stop is very, very hard to pull off. As soon as we had the pace that we had, I knew as I soon as I could get past him… and I was about to, I think, have a shot before I pitted right at the end and I was really conflicted. Do I come in or do I ignore the call and stay out? Obviously, I did what the team asked and naturally that’s because there is a great trust between us. Just a remarkable job by everyone in this team through and through. Yeah, what a day.’

‘It was really interesting because all weekend, a one-stop strategy was the quickest way to the end of the race but this is one of the most abrasive circuits that we go to in terms of how aggressive it is with the tyres. It isn’t easy to make these tyres go that distance – even when the track was a lot cooler this weekend than perhaps it was last year here, and compared to how it was yesterday. All these little details have an affect on how these tyres last – but still, it is a really challenging circuit to save them and make them go the distance. So, I think it was quite clear early on to me, particularly of how close I was pushing to keep within a second, or just over a second behind Max. I knew that I was going to a two-stop strategy and then the team told me and I was like: ‘nothing new’. Of course, when I came out 20-odd seconds behind, I thought that’s going to be… it seemed so far, it’s such a huge gap to close but when you see the time difference that we had. I was in the mid-20s and he was mid-22s, or sometimes late 22s. I had plenty of laps to catch-up – but I didn’t know whether or not I would have enough pace at the end tyre-wise but then you just have to offset: he’s going to have even worse pace at the end. It was, as I said, the perfect strategy.’

Hamilton Enjoying Verstappen Battle

After going several seasons without a title fight, Lewis Hamilton is relishing the battle with Max Verstappen, and made the most of the opportunity by paying close attention to his adversary at close quarters.

‘I’m continuing to love this battle we are having. I didn’t know whether we would be able to follow them as closely as we did in the end. Obviously, Turn 1, the start was not ideal and we are going to have to review it and see how we can do better in the future. But as soon as we got passed in Turn 1, I was like, ‘OK, switch into a different mode’. It was actually a really good day. I learned a lot about Max today, perhaps more than all the other races put together. This has been a good one in that sense and great, great teamwork from all of us. We were here until late most evenings discussing strategy, last night and this morning and we had all the bases covered in that respect. Of course it just meant that I had to do the job on track. Coming back from 20 odd seconds wasn’t easy but I think it was the right one in the end.’

‘When you are with people on track you get to see different things and watch closely and obviously I was following relatively closely and I learned a lot about his car and how he uses it, so it was a good race in that respect.’

‘Every year I come back and I’m always trying to improve. Most often it tends to be, or it seems impossible, but it’s a necessity. The Red Bulls have started off incredibly strong. Max has a championship-winning car and opportunity. As do we. It’s going to take everything from us, not only me bringing my A-game but the team bringing their A-game, weekend-in, weekend-out. Otherwise these guys will be winning.’

2021 Spanish Grand Prix, Sunday - Lewis Hamilton v Max Verstappen (image courtesy Mercedes-AMG Petronas)
2021 Spanish Grand Prix, Sunday – Lewis Hamilton v Max Verstappen (image courtesy Mercedes-AMG Petronas)

Teammate Tension?

With Hamilton and his teammate Valtteri Bottas on different strategies, Bottas was told not to hold his teammate up. However, it looked as if Bottas didn’t want to make life too easy for Hamilton as he sought to protect his own position.

Hamilton was quick to downplay the situation, clearly valuing the partnership he has with Bottas.

‘I think we’re the best teammates so… honestly I didn’t know that he had a message so in my mind I was like ‘we’re racing’ and that’s totally fine for me, particularly early on in this part of the season so in my mind I was ‘so I’ve got to get close and hope for an overtake’ but then obviously when we went into turn ten, we were on massively different strategies so I was going to get him at some stage because I had much better tyres. And we were going into turn ten and I thought there was a gap there and I wasn’t quite sure and then there was a gap and Valtteri was completely fair, I wouldn’t lose too much time but this is how we win as a team. We sometimes have to… sometimes we’re in that position where you just… you’ve got to put the team first and getting a second and a third is good but getting a first is obviously max points and that’s key,’ said Hamilton.

For his part, Bottas held no ill-will, stating that he was trying to do the best for both the team and his own podium finish.

‘I got the message and obviously we were on different strategies at that point so unless something crazy would happen, I wasn’t really any more with him. But the thing was, at that time, I was trying to get Charles off my pit window so I could stop again and try and be ahead of him, so I was really conscious that I didn’t want to lose too much time, and I was really focusing on my race so it was about balancing things. Of course, as a racing driver, you prioritise yourself, your race, because that’s what we do but also we work as a team, so you don’t want to ruin the win for the team if that is possible; if it is not possible for you. So I tried to do the best thing I could for us as a team and for myself. It’s always hard doing those kind of things and either know… ask the other driver if he predicts what’s going to happen and where to go but I think in the end it was kind of OK,’ added Bottas.

2021 Spanish Grand Prix, Sunday - Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas
2021 Spanish Grand Prix, Sunday – Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas

Still Life In The Old Dog

With Hamilton still performing at such a high level, naturally thoughts are turning to a contract extension for 2022 and possibly beyond, something the Brit wants to sort sooner rather than later this time round.

‘There’s still some life in this old dog! I would say I’m more conscious than ever about my body, about my training regime. I’ve been training myself for a long time now but constantly growing and learning how to look after, naturally, the vessel that I’m given and feeling great. Contract-wise? Yeah, we never want to be in the position that we were in in January, in February. It ruined my whole winter and I’m sure it wasn’t helpful for Toto’s, in terms of being out to be off and relaxed, so it felt like we didn’t really have much of a break. I think we have to be sensible. Naturally we don’t have to rush anything but I think we have to be sensible and start conversations. They’re very complex, it’s never a super simple procedure and so hopefully soon we can start, as long as it doesn’t interfere the actual job. We still have 19 races to do but it would be great to get something in place before the break so then we could, again, be in that break and have a clear picture of the future.’