Max Verstappen heads into this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix at Sochi locked in an intense – and increasingly fractious – battle for the championship with seven-time champion Sir Lewis Hamilton.
After 15 races, the Dutchman holds a narrow five point leader over Mercedes-AMG’s reigning champion, and his Red Bull Racing-Honda has, on balance, been the fastest car over the course of the season.
Verstappen has seven race wins so far this year, compared with four for Hamilton, while clashes between the two at Silverstone and Monza have ramped up the tension.
Still only 23, Verstappen is already in his seventh F1 season, but this is the first in which he has had a realistic shot at the championship.
Autocar caught up with him to ask about how he sees the race of the season progressing.
The title battle with you and Lewis Hamilton has been getting pretty intense this season. Are you enjoying having such an intense fight?
“It’s enjoyable. But of course it’s not just about the drivers, it’s about the teams as well. As a driver, you want to be battling for the title, and to be going to races with a chance to win. If you’re in the championship fight, it’s a sign that you’re doing that.”
This is the final year of the current technical regulations. Would it mean more for you, Red Bull and Honda to beat Hamilton and Mercedes-AMG this year before the new 2021 regulations because it would show how you’ve developed the car?
“For me personally, that doesn't really matter too much. You want to win every single year, right? But of course in the last few years, Mercedes have been very dominant. And I think how we’ve turned things around together with Honda compared to last year is already a great achievement.
"But now that you're fighting for the championship, you also want to finish it off in the best way possible. It would be great [to win the title] this year, but if it doesn't work out and we can say we have a good car and we have a chance, then it will feel good as well. I think every time you're in a fight in general, you know that that makes you feel good already.”
How do you see the rest of the season shaping up? Where do you think you big advantages are? And what do you think the biggest challenges will be?
“At the moment, I don't really know, because people keep on improving and things keep on changing. Every single weekend is so close: you can have a very good package, but if you don't have a good set-up, you know it's not going to show. We always have to make sure that we look into every single detail to be competitive. That makes it a bit unpredictable, because some weekends you nail the set-up better than other times.”