‘It keeps it exciting’ – Verstappen relishing title fight after Hamilton closes the gap in Qatar
Max Verstappen had no answer to Lewis Hamilton’s pace in the first ever Qatar Grand Prix as the Mercedes man chipped away at the Dutchman’s championship lead, but the Red Bull racer insists he’s relishing the fight ahead of the final two races of the year.
Verstappen was hit with a grid penalty before the race which dropped him from P2 down to seventh. He clawed his way back up to second behind pole-sitter Hamilton by Lap 5, but was unable to challenge for the victory – though he did take the extra point for fastest lap, as Hamilton cut Verstappen’s title lead from 14 to eight points.
After the race Verstappen said he wasn’t troubled by the penalty.
“Once I know I was starting seventh I was just very motivated to move ahead and that’s exactly what we did,” he said.
“We had a good first lap and then after five laps we were second again and I just tried to keep the gap small which we did throughout the whole race so they couldn’t do an extra stop – and it gave me the fastest lap at the end so I was definitely happy with that.
“We just didn’t have the pace this weekend to match them [Mercedes]. I did the fastest lap – at the end of the day it was still one extra point and everything counts at the moment – but this weekend wasn’t the best for us.”
With the small gap between the two title contenders, Verstappen says he is ignoring the off-track issues and punches that have flown back and forth between Red Bull and Mercedes, and is instead fully focused on his driving.
“Racing is not complicated,” he said. “It has a brake pedal, throttle pedal and a steering wheel. There’s a lot of show around but I think as drivers we know what to do and anything else around that’s not really relevant for me, I have to just focus on my job.
“We just need to try and stay focused and there are two races to go and as you can see a lot of things can happen. Anything is possible.”
And as for the title battle with Hamilton he said: “I feel good. It’s going to be a tight battle to the end. I know it’s going to be difficult to the end, but I think that’s nice – it keeps it exciting.”