Lewis Hamilton accused of playing mind games in F1 title battle

Lewis Hamilton accused of playing mind games in F1 title battle
Max Verstappen is five points ahead of Hamilton in the drivers’ standings ahead of the Russian Grand Prix

Christian Horner has accused Lewis Hamilton of playing with people’s minds – and claims the seven-time world champion is feeling the pressure of his title fight with Max Verstappen

The two drivers collided at the Italian Grand Prix a fortnight ago – their second coming together in five fixtures.

And Hamilton, five points adrift of Verstappen heading into Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix, suggested his  rival is struggling to cope with the psychological burden of battling for his first championship.

But Red Bull team principal Horner, speaking to the PA news agency, said: “Lewis loves to try and play with people’s minds, and Max just doesn’t bite.

“When you point a finger in a direction, there are three pointing back at you, and the one that is really feeling the pressure is Lewis.

“He is fighting to be the most successful driver of all time, he is the defending champion.

“Max is 23, he has got many years ahead of him, and coming into this season he was the outsider. He is just enjoying it, the racing, the challenge, and he has the benefit of youth.

“Time never stands still and Lewis has achieved so much, a phenomenal champion, but there is always going to be the next generation.

“They are completely different characters. Max is the type of guy whose life is about racing, and if he is not racing on track, he is racing online. Lewis leads a very different life.”

Lewis loves to try and play with people’s minds, and Max just doesn’t bite. The one that is really feeling the pressure is Lewis.

Christian Horner

Hamilton and Verstappen are embroiled in one of the most talked-about Formula One title battles of recent memory.

Hamilton has triumphed just once in his last 11 appearances – with Verstappen’s Red Bull team holding the edge.

However, the 36-year-old will be handed a golden opportunity to claim his 100th career win, and take control of the title fight here in Sochi, with his rival at the back of the grid following an engine penalty.

Their on-track rivalry has been played out against the backdrop of Mercedes and Red Bull squabbling off track, with Horner and his Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff trading insults.

Horner, who guided Red Bull to four consecutive triumphs between 2010 and 2013, added: “When we competed against McLaren for the championship and Lewis was driving for them, and when we were competing against Ferrari with Fernando Alonso and Stefano Domenicali, it was a very different atmosphere to this one.

“This has felt a lot more political with lots more going on behind the scenes. The inbox from Toto to the FIA, they are going to need a major clearout at the end of the year.

“Toto has never been in a position where he has been challenged. He inherited a very competitive team from Ross Brawn and he has done a great job in maintaining that but this is the first time he has had this kind of pressure and people react to pressure in different ways.”

Wolff called Verstappen’s collision with Hamilton at Monza as a tactical foul to ensure he retained the lead of the championship.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff called Max Verstappen’s crash with Lewis Hamilton during the Italian Grand Prix a tactical foul (David Davies/PA Wire).

Verstappen was also accused of unsporting behaviour after he failed to check on Hamilton, despite his Red Bull machinery landing on top of his rival’s car. Hamilton said he felt grateful to be alive.

But Horner said: “I was really disappointed to hear Toto call it a tactical foul.

“Max is a racing driver and he is going to go for a gap and both drivers knew how important it was to be ahead and neither wanted to concede.

“I spoke to Max after the race and he said ‘I could feel Lewis trying to reverse out while I was sitting in the car, so there was need for me to check on him.’

“It was not a driver in need of desperate medical attention. It wasn’t like when Max hit the wall at 150mph and he was knocked out. There was a lot made of that but it was a cover-up to excuse what happened at Silverstone.”