Mercedes driver Hamilton heads into the Mexico race weekend trailing Verstappen by 12 points in the fight for the drivers’ championship with five races remaining.
The two drivers have crashed together twice this year – at Silverstone and at Monza – and almost had a run-in during practice for the United States Grand Prix two weeks ago.
Hamilton and Verstappen went side-by-side through a series of corners in FP2 on Friday, with Verstappen ultimately backing out after being passed at Turn 1. The Red Bull driver raised his middle finger as Hamilton pulled away, and called him a “stupid idiot” over the radio.
Hamilton spoke about his handling of the title fight pressure during Thursday’s FIA press conference in Mexico after being asked how he avoided making their battle personal.
“I’ve been here for a long time, it’s not my first rodeo,” Hamilton said.
“I think at the core of everything, there has to be respect. When I think about, and I hear the things that come out of drivers’ mouths, I do think there are kids watching us, and they’re looking to us for inspiration and for guidance.
“There has been a lot of things that have been said, which is definitely not good for young kids that are watching. For me, I’m just trying to remain positive and keep calm, and again, just be respectful to the drivers that I am fighting.
“If I have a name in my head of what I think they are, I don’t share that. But it’s pretty easy for me. You laugh it off, and you move forwards.”
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
Hamilton expanded on his lack of overly emotional responses to setbacks or defeats this year by again citing his experience in F1 title battles. While Hamilton is a seven-time world champion, Verstappen is currently fighting for his first world title.
“I have been here a long time, I learned a lot in my time,” Hamilton said.
“And also, I know, Max has not won a championship in a long, long time.
“So I know what it’s like going for your first championship, particularly in the sport, I know the pressures that come with that, and so it’s nothing less than I expected from him.
“He’s still a youngster, and he’s going to be growing a huge amount over the next decade, which I think everyone will be excited to see. I just try and if I can, lead by example.
“Because as I said, I know that I have a lot of youngsters particularly that are racing, that are looking at what I do and what I say.
“And that’s important for me.”
The high altitude conditions at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City are expected to play to Red Bull’s strengths, with the team having typically done well at the track in the past.
Asked by Autosport about the importance of breaking Red Bull’s momentum soon to ensure Verstappen does not pull too far ahead in the champion, Hamilton said it was “naturally up and down” between the two teams.
“We thought that we would be stronger, for example, in somewhere like Austin,” Hamilton said.
“They were quite a bit stronger than us in the race. So I really can’t predict it.
“What I do know is last year, they out-qualified us here, and they were down on power compared to us through the year. Now they’re ahead on power, there or thereabouts, and they’ve got a very strong car that’s been affected less by the changes in the rules, that we were affected by.
“So they’re going to be rapid this weekend. Last year I think they were almost half a second ahead of us. Our car is not better than last year’s car, I would say with those changes.
“It’ll be interesting to see how we fare with them this weekend.”