Max Verstappen. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen is under pressure as he fights for a first Formula One title but will not admit to it affecting him, seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton said on Thursday.
The 23-year-old is five points clear of his Mercedes rival after 14 of 22 races but starts Sunday's Russian Grand Prix with a three-place grid penalty after they collided in the previous race at Monza.
Their clashes have become the story of the season as Verstappen and Red Bull seek to end seven years of Mercedes domination and dethrone the most successful driver of all time.
"I’m in my 10th (title) battle or something like that, but I remember what it (the first) was like and I know the pressure that comes with it," Hamilton told reporters.
"Obviously he won’t admit to it and I’m not going to make an assumption," the Briton added when asked whether he felt it was starting to catch up with Verstappen.
"I’m just saying that I remember what it was like when I had my first one and it definitely mounted up. It was difficult, it was intense, I was going through a lot of different emotions and I didn’t always handle it the best."
"That’s to be expected ... there’s a lot of self-expectation and pressure because the desire to win is huge. I empathise and understand that."
Hamilton, who won his first championship in 2008 as a 23-year-old with McLaren, hoped to turn experience to his advantage.
"It’s a lot easier to handle now than my first one. I’ve been here a long time," he said.
NO LINGERING EFFECTS
Hamilton said there were no lingering effects from Monza, where Verstappen's car ended up on top of the Mercedes with a rear wheel hitting the Briton's helmet.
He said he had done yoga and acupuncture and his physiotherapist Angela Cullen had flown with him to America, where he attended the Met Gala fashion show in New York.
The 36-year-old batted aside reported comments from Red Bull consultant Helmut Marko questioning how much pain he had felt.
"I don’t really listen to what these individuals talk about. It’s natural when a car lands on your head that you’re going to have some sort of discomfort," he said.
"I didn’t say I was dying. Just aware that in a millisecond anything can happen. I did feel grateful to come out of it not badly injured and move on."
Hamilton said he was putting no energy into worrying about more collisions.
"I think what’s important is that we just continue to race hard and fair and I have no doubts that we will both be professional and learn from the past," he said.
"I never expect a driver to back down. That’s not how I approach racing with any drivers. I think ultimately we all have to be smart and know that there is a time where you are not going to make a corner."