Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are two greats of their sport. Although Verstappen’s career hasn’t been as long and decorated as Hamilton’s, the young Dutchman has already proven himself as one of the sport’s all-time greats with his rise from one of the most promising rookies on the grid to one of the most feared drivers on the grid. Hamilton, on the other hand, is statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen, and non-statistically too, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Although the two had didn’t really have any substantial championship battles until the 2021 season, once they did lock horns for the title, it was an epic duel. Hamilton, a seven-time world champion, has previously been in title fights against the likes of Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen, Felipe Massa, Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg, and has beaten all of them over the years.
On multiple occasions during this season, Hamilton and Verstappen’s coming-togethers has resulted in either both or at least one of them taking serious damage to their car or not finishing the race. Verstappen, quite literally, has pushed Hamilton on-track.
As the titanic season draws to an end in Abu Dhabi, where the championship will be decided, we take a look at Hamilton and Verstappen’s on track battles over the years, a rivalry that has reached new heights this season.
Also Read – Top 10 Greatest Lewis Hamilton On-Track Moments
Hamilton vs Verstappen – Malaysia 2017
It was Verstappen’s second season at Red Bull and first full season after having been put in the seat midway through the previous season.
Heading into Round 15, Verstappen was plagued by technical issues that had seen him retire seven times coming into Malaysia. Although the season was dominated by the Mercedes and Ferrari of Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, respectively, Daniel Ricciardo, Verstappen’s senior teammate at Red Bull, had picked up a win at Azerbaijan. Verstappen has always been an aggressive driver, who races to win and nothing else, and he was itching to get a win in 2017 after having been let down by the car multiple times. Hamilton, on the other hand, entered the race on the back of three consecutive wins at Spa, Monza and Singapore and was a favourite to win coming into Malaysia.
Lewis went about the task right from the get-go, taking pole from Kimi Räikkönen and Max Verstappen, with Vettel failing to set a time due to an engine issue. With Räikkönen pulling off the grid at the start of the race due to a technical issue Hamilton had his work made simpler, with neither Ferrari in the picture to pressure him. He started well and headed off with Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Ricciardo following suit. Verstappen, though, wasn’t hanging around and made sure he stayed within DRS range of Hamilton in the opening laps. On Lap 4, the Dutchman who was hunting down Hamilton, used DRS to dive down the inside of the Mercedes going into Turn 1 and take the lead of the race. He then slowly began to clear out Hamilton from his DRS range and by the 10th lap was a good two-and-a-half seconds ahead of the Mercedes. He was helped by the fact that Hamilton was told to look after his tyres as they were overheating and also that the Brit was suffering from a battery de-rate issue which held him back.
With Hamilton taking a conservative approach, Verstappen put his foot down, and by the halfway mark had built a gap of more than five seconds over Hamilton. Verstappen put in a dominating performance, holding off the defending world champion behind him comfortably, and taking his second career win just a day after his 20th birthday.
Verstappen’s win in Malaysia announced the young Dutchman as a serious force to be reckoned with. He was not afraid to punch above his weight and take down whoever was standing toe-to-toe with him. Fearless, bold and dominant, Verstappen made sure the world took notice.
Also Read – Top 10: Greatest Kimi Räikkönen on-track moments
Hamilton vs Verstappen – Japan 2017
Following his triumph as Sepang, Verstappen entered the Japanese Grand Prix filled with confidence. Red Bull were off the pace right from the start, though, with Verstappen qualifying fourth, over a second slower than Hamilton on pole.
But Verstappen was not going to sit back, and put in a bold move on his teammate at the opening corner at Suzuka to take third place. Although he wasn’t done yet, and with Vettel having technical issues, Verstappen sent another one on the opening lap to take second place from the four-time world champion. With his championship rival out of the race and seemingly also out of the championship run, Hamilton would have thought his race would be easy, but Verstappen had him looking in his mirrors throughout the races, keeping close to the Mercedes driver.
Hamilton seemed to have just enough pace to hold off the charging Dutchman, but a late Virtual Safety Car (VSC) bunched up the field again, giving Verstappen the advantage for he had held back to conserve his tyres to mount a late surge. Heading into the final few laps after the VSC restart, Verstappen gave everything and was within two-hundredths of Hamilton, but the seven-time world champion held on to the win with Verstappen following just a little over a second behind.
Even though Hamilton took the win, he was made to work hard for it by this 20-year-old who was beginning to push the Brit right to the limit.
Hamilton vs Verstappen – Bahrain 2018
After picking up damage in Q1, Verstappen failed to put in a time for Q2 that left him starting P15. Hamilton didn’t fare too well either by his own standards, starting a lowly fourth behind teammate Bottas.
A terrible start from the Brit along with Verstappen’s first lap charge saw the Dutchman just behind Hamilton in P11 on the first lap. Verstappen wanted to make the most of Hamilton’s misfortunes and went down the inside of his Mercedes into Turn 1, and with Fernando Alonso on his right, Max fought wheel to wheel with Hamilton and barged his way through that sandwich, albeit at the expense of picking up a right-rear puncture after contact with Hamilton’s front wing.
Verstappen had to pit for a fresh pair of tyres and his race didn’t get any better as he had to retire on Lap 15 due to a transmission issue. Even though the young Dutch driver didn’t finish the race, he had made his point clear – whether you were a seven-time world champion or a one-time race winner, Max Verstappen would fight you on track, where you would be just another driver and another car in the way of Verstappen and his victory. He was not going to surrender to anyone.
Hamilton vs Verstappen – Monaco 2019
Hamilton started from pole at the Principality, at the track where it is notoriously difficult to overtake. With Verstappen in third, Hamilton had the comfort of his teammate holding off the Red Bull driver in the initial stages to build a lead.
Hamilton had a comfortable and clean start to race and held onto his lead. His teammate, though, had it a bit tougher, as Verstappen almost dived on the inside of Bottas heading into the first corner, but the Finn somehow managed to hold on. As the cars came in for the first set of pit stops on Lap 12, Bottas, Vettel and Verstappen headed into the pits together and the Red Bull crew released Max unsafely onto the path of Bottas, who had to take evasive action to avoid contact and Max was handed a five-second penalty. Bottas, at the time, had to concede which promoted Verstappen into the second place.
Up ahead, Hamilton, who had had a relatively comfortable lead, began to struggle when his medium set of tyres began to wear out, which gave Max the opportunity to catch Hamilton, and for most part of the remaining laps he was right up on the rear of Hamilton, with the latter putting in a master class in defending to hold off the former with a worn out set of tyres. Lap after lap, Verstappen seemed to get agonisingly close to the Brit, but Hamilton kept on putting his car just at the right places to hold off Verstappen, who got his best chance to take the win on Lap 76 when he almost went past Hamilton at Turn 10, but Hamilton cut the chicane and managed to hold on to the lead, with Verstappen finishing just sixth-tenths behind, although his five-second penalty relegated the Dutchman to fifth place.
Max might have left Monaco P5, but he was turning the pressure on Hamilton, and the world champion knew that there was a new threat on its way.
Hamilton vs Verstappen – Hungary 2019
The Hungaroring for majority of the turbo hybrid era has been a happy hunting ground for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, with the Brit taking six victories heading into the 2019 race. But Verstappen had different plans that year and after putting in a smashing banker lap in Q3 became the first Dutch Formula One driver on pole, with Hamilton starting P3.
Verstappen was under pressure right off the line, with both of the Mercedes cars attacking into Turn 1, but a lock up by Bottas forced Hamilton wide and gave Max a chance to pull away. Bottas locked up once again at Turn 2 and Lewis went on the outside of the Finn to take second spot heading into Turn 3. Although Hamilton tried to attack, Verstappen managed to keep the Brit out of DRS range.
On Lap 25, it was Red Bull who got Verstappen to pit first, with the strategy being clear after he was fitted on with the hards: it was going to be a one-stopper for the Austrian team. Seven laps later, race leader Hamilton came in for what looked like his only pit stop as he also put the hard compound tyres on. A relatively slow pit stop of 4 seconds meant Hamilton rejoined the track in second place, five seconds adrift of the leader but more importantly, on a set of fresher tyres, ready to catch the race leader. Within a lap, Hamilton already began to show his pace on the newer tyres as he cut down that five-second gap to just over three seconds. Hamilton almost took the lead of the race on Lap 39, but the Brit ran wide into Turn 4 and lost a few tenths that gave Verstappen the chance to push on.
Verstappen managed to hold onto the lead and on Lap 49 in a surprising turn of events as Mercedes called in Hamilton for a second pit stop. With Hamilton having built a 39-second gap to Charles Leclerc in third place, the plan was simple – use the final 20 laps to throw everything at Verstappen, who would be on worn out tyres. Along with the gap to third place, another factor that played right into Mercedes’ hands was that the second Red Bull of Pierre Gasly was down in sixth place, almost a minute and six seconds behind Hamilton. The Silver Arrows’ pit crew put on the medium tyres on Hamilton’s W10 to set him loose to chase Verstappen. Mercedes’ call to pit Hamilton had caught out Red Bull and they decided not to bring in Max for a second pit stop fearing Hamilton would beat them on the undercut. With 14 laps remaining, Hamilton was still 15 seconds behind and going hard every lap in an effort to cut down the gap. Verstappen, who was on much older tyres, was holding onto the lead, wishing the chequered flag to come as soon as possible. On Lap 63, Hamilton had brought down the gap to a mere six seconds, and Verstappen was clear on the radio to his team when he stated his tyres were dead. It now wasn’t about how long Verstappen could hold off Hamilton but how fast Hamilton could catch up to Verstappen. On Lap 67, Hamilton was just a few tenths behind Verstappen heading into the main straight, and with DRS, Hamilton swooped past the Red Bull, taking the lead going into Turn 1.
Hamilton’s victory not only gave him a comfortable lead in the championship standings but also stated that the veteran still had it in him to charge back through and make it count when it mattered.
Also Read – The Greatest MotoGP Riders of All Time
Hamilton vs Verstappen – Spain 2021
Unlike their previous battles, the 2021 fight already gave Max the advantage as Red Bull’s seemed to be the car to beat in the season. But Hamilton put in a stunning Q3 lap to take not only the pole from Verstappen but also his 100th pole position in Formula One.
However, it was the Red Bull driver that got the better start on Sunday as Verstappen had his elbows out right from the start, going on the inside of Hamilton into Turn 1 to take the lead of the race. The retirement of AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda brought out the safety, diminishing Verstappen’s lead. As the safety car came in on Lap 11, Verstappen backed up the pack just enough to sprint away once again in a bid to build a healthy lead. It was Verstappen who came into the pits first on Lap 25, handing Hamilton the lead of the race. A slow pit stop from the crew saw Verstappen join the track in third place, almost nine seconds behind Hamilton. Three laps later, Hamilton came in for his own pit stop, and a swift stop from the Mercedes crew brought him on the track just behind Verstappen in second place.
Verstappen held on to the lead, but once again Mercedes managed to catch him off guard with their strategy as they called in Hamilton for his second pit stop on Lap 43. He rejoined 22 seconds behind Verstappen in third place. By Lap 50, Hamilton was once again reeling in Verstappen, lap after lap, bringing the lead down to 12 seconds with 16 laps to go. Within 9 laps, after being let through by his teammate, Hamilton was within DRS range of Verstappen and on much fresher tyres than his opponent. Hamilton passed Verstappen quite easily on the outside of Turn 1.
Once again, Mercedes and Hamilton had caught out Red Bull and Verstappen with superior strategy, but the fact that Verstappen was constantly making Hamilton and his team think out of the box to win showed the development of Verstappen from a hot-headed arrogant driver to a mature and aggressive one.
Hamilton vs Verstappen – England 2021
In a season where Red Bull seemed to have the superior power unit and slowly began to run away with the titles, came Hamilton and Verstappen’s first major on-track collision.
At his home Grand Prix, Hamilton qualified on pole, but Formula One’s new format of Sprint Qualifying meant that he would have to take the Sprint race win to start at the top of the grid on Sunday. Verstappen, who qualified P2, attacked the Brit right off the line, taking the lead and holding onto that lead for 17 laps to start P1 for Sunday’s feature race.
With Verstappen on P1 and Hamilton beside him on the front row, it was going to be an exciting race. Hamilton got the better start and was running beside the Red Bull for the first few corners, but a better exit out of Turn 4 allowed Hamilton to momentarily get ahead of Verstappen, although the Red Bull driver managed to regain the lead going on the inside. Coming out of Turn 7 Hamilton had the inside line, and with him accelerating faster that Verstappen, both drivers touched, with Hamilton’s left front making contact with Verstappen’s right rear. Such was the speed of the cars coming out of Copse, that Verstappen had a heavy impact into the barriers at 290 km/h. Verstappen had an immediate DNF with the session being red flagged. Hamilton was penalised with a ten-second penalty and re-joined at fourth once racing resumed. Although there was no Verstappen to stop him, the Brit put in yet another master class by coming back once again with a masterful drive to take his eight British Grand Prix victory.
Hamilton vs Verstappen – Italy 2021
Following their high-octane clash at Silverstone, both Hamilton and Verstappen managed to steer clear of each other for the next couple of races. The 2021 title protagonists, though, were back at it at the Temple of Speed at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.
At the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, which was the season’s second Sprint weekend, Verstappen drew first blood. Although Bottas lead Hamilton in traditional qualifying, Hamilton had a disastrous Sprint session, which saw Verstappen take P2, while Hamilton could only manage P5 behind his teammate Valtteri Bottas, Verstappen and both the McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris.
Heading into the race on Sunday, Verstappen’s second place at the Sprint meant he held a five-point lead over the seven-time World Champion in the title battle. To make matters worse for Hamilton, his teammate’s grid penalty meant Verstappen started the race on pole.
The race saw a frantic start, which saw Verstappen’s former teammate Daniel Ricciardo overtake the young Dutchman for the lead, while Hamilton took a couple of laps to get past the other McLaren of Lando Norris. It was smooth sailing for Verstappen, though, who kept Hamilton comfortably behind him and came in for his first pit stop on Lap 22. A nightmare stop, for what is one of the fastest pit crews on the grid, saw Verstappen stationery for 11 seconds. Hamilton followed suit and pitted the following lap, and had a slow stop too, although his was for 4.2 seconds.
Hamilton came out of the pits just ahead of Verstappen heading into Turn 1. An overly aggressive and agitated Verstappen, who was on the inside, was pushed to the track limit by Hamilton as the Brit tried to keep position, albeit its worth nothing that Hamilton gave Verstappen just enough room. Verstappen, though, felt he was squeezed and tried to bulldoze his way back into the lead. The Red Bull driver bounced over the sausage kerb heading into Turn 2 and made contact with Hamilton’s left rear tyre, which eventually saw Verstappen spectacularly launch himself on top of Hamilton’s W12.
Fortunately, once again the halo showed why it has been one of the most important additions to Formula One in recent years, as it protected Hamilton’s head from coming under Verstappen’s tyre. Both drivers walked away without any serious injuries but had to retire from the race. Verstappen was deemed at fault as he could have avoided pushing himself onto the track that led to the incident, and the Dutchman was aptly handed a three-place grid penalty for the following race in Sochi.
As for the title battle, it was truly on. Hamilton knew he was up against someone who didn’t care much about anything other than winning and going extreme lengths for it.
Also Read – Top 10 Formula One Race Tracks
Hamilton vs Verstappen – Saudi Arabia 2021
Heading into the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, it was advantage Lewis Hamilton, although Verstappen still led the championship standings. Hamilton came into Jeddah on the back of two incredible performances in Brazil and Qatar and was looking for another one to keep his championship hopes alive. For Verstappen, it was the first time the Dutchman had an opportunity to seal a Drivers’ title.
Although Hamilton showcased strong pace in qualifying, which saw him take pole, he knew that he only managed it because Verstappen tanked his final flying lap of Q3 as he ran into the barriers at the narrow Jeddah Street Circuit. Had Verstappen finished his lap, he most certainly would have taken pole, something which Hamilton himself acknowledged.
In what was one of the most chaotic races of the 2021 season, Hamilton led comfortably from the start, but an early safety car saw Mercedes call in Hamilton, while Red Bull decided to leave Verstappen out to gain crucial track position on a street circuit. The crash that brought out the safety car had done too much damage to the barriers, which led to the race getting red flagged and the advantage going straight to Red Bull. Not only would Verstappen keep his P1, but he could also get what would be a free pit stop under the red flag.
As the race resumed, Verstappen led, but it was Hamilton who got the better start and overtook the Dutchman for the lead, only for Verstappen to cut across the track to retake the lead. Even before one could digest the action up front, a host of crashes simultaneously at the back of the grid brought out the red flag once again. Before the restart, Red Bull were told by race control to hand back Hamilton the position.
On the second restart, it was Verstappen who got the better start and made a clean move on the inside of Hamilton to take the lead. Hamilton then set out to hunt down Verstappen for the lead and the Brit was showcasing extreme pace as he cut down Verstappen’s lead every lap.
On Lap 36, Hamilton overtook Verstappen on the main straight, but the aggressive Dutchman once again pushed his way back into the lead after making contact with the Mercedes driver. He was asked in the following laps to hand back the position to Hamilton for retaking the lead in an unfair manner. As Hamilton was trying to catch and retake the lead from Verstappen, the Dutchman abruptly slowed down in front of Hamilton and moved ever so slightly. In an attempt to avoid major contact, Hamilton swayed out of the way but failed to avoid contact that damaged his front wing after running into the back of Verstappen’s car.
Verstappen did eventually give back the place to Hamilton and was served dual time penalties for his risky and questionable driving style. Hamilton went on to win comfortably, though, but given it was the penultimate race of the season and that he was making a comeback in the championship battle, the pressure was truly on the Red Bull driver, and it was showing on track now. A driver error in qualifying that saw him miss out on pole along with dangerous and risky driving, going extreme lengths to keep Hamilton out, showed Verstappen was under the pump as Hamilton used all his experience to take a massive win in Saudi Arabia and head into the final race of the 2021 season level on points with the Dutchman.
As we head into the final race of this eventful, thrilling and enthralling season, one thing can be said for sure: Lewis Hamilton has faced numerous title challenges over the years, but none like this. In Verstappen, he has found not only a title contender who will go extreme lengths to fight him off, but Hamilton has also needed to make sure he does everything he can to finish the races, because at the end of the day, to finish first, you need to finish first.
Whoever takes the championship crown at the end of season – whether it is Hamilton’s record-breaking eighth or Verstappen’s maiden title – one thing is for sure: the 2021 title season was a fitting finale to the turbo hybrid era, The 2022 season will bring out new regulations and it might shake up the entire grid, hence it is important we appreciate, acknowledge the greatness and enjoy this epic fight between two greats.