Grand prix

Hamilton expects “smooth sailing” for Verstappen in F1 title race

Verstappen took full advantage of main title rival Charles Leclerc’s crash out of the lead Sunday’s French Grand Prix to extend his championship advantage to 63 points and take a massive step towards winning his second world title.

It marked the reigning world champion’s seventh victory from 12 races this season and he has now moved more than two wins clear of Leclerc with 10 races remaining.   

After finishing a strong second, Hamilton – who lost out on the 2021 world title to Verstappen in last year’s controversial season finale in Abu Dhabi – said he empathised with Leclerc after the Monegasque took full responsibility for his race-ending accident. 

“I’m gutted for Charles, who’s been doing a great job, as has Carlos,” said Hamilton. 

“It’s not easy though, having that pace and that performance and maintaining it. It’s a tough job and I feel for the whole team because I know what that can feel like. But they’re a great team, and they’ll continue to keep their heads down. 

“[It’s a] massive gap, obviously pretty huge, so that’s pretty smooth sailing in that space generally. But a lot still can go wrong up ahead so I would just advise them just to continue to push.”  

Verstappen: F1 title lead ‘bigger than it should be’ 

Leclerc has now retired from the lead on three occasions this season, with two of his DNFs being caused by engine failures amid a series of Ferrari reliability woes this year. 

Verstappen conceded after the race that his championship lead has been flattered by issues for Leclerc given how evenly matched Ferrari and Red Bull have been throughout the opening half of the season. 

“It’s still very important to always score points, even on a bad day, which we did in Austria,” said Verstappen.

“Of course the lead we have is great, but it’s probably a bit bigger than what it should have been, when you look at the car performances between the two cars.

“We still have a bit of work to do over a single lap especially, so we’ll just keep working.” 

However, Verstappen was confident he had the pace to beat Leclerc on merit had the Ferrari driver not crashed out. 

“It looked good from our side,” he added. “I was very happy because I wanted to see immediately if we could follow or not compared to Austria where it was the other way around, where I was in the lead but I could barely hold on. 

“But this time I think we were a lot more competitive. Of course, our straightline speed was very beneficial, but because of that, in the high-speed we had to be a bit more careful. I stayed in his DRS for quite a while, but of course around here even driving on your own the tyres are already getting really hot. 

“So I think by doing that, towards the pit stop, my tyres were a bit too hot. That’s why I think he pulled away a little bit. 

“But it wasn’t anything, like, drastic, the way he was pulling away. So I still had good hope that we would have had a good fight on the other compound as well.” 

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