Max Verstappen refused to entertain hype surrounding Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes ahead of the French Grand Prix this weekend. Many feel as though the Silver Arrows may finally be in a position to challenge runaway leaders Red Bull and Ferrari, with Circuit Paul Ricard theoretically well-suited to their W13.
Mercedes are yet to finish any higher than third with the season already at its halfway point, representing the longest stretch into a campaign that Hamilton has failed to register a Grand Prix win. The French GP’s smooth circuit is tipped to suit the Silver Arrows this weekend, however, amid suggestions that Hamilton could end his barren run.
Verstappen refused to get caught up in the hype, however, despite the timeless battle contested by the pair in 2021. Faced with the prospect of Mercedes gatecrashing Ferrari and Red Bull’s party, the Dutchman remains focus on his own team and stretching their lead in the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships.
“We didnt put the best package on track in Austria,” Verstappen told Sky Sports. “Then it causes issues with the tyres. I expect us to be more competitive here. It’s important to score points even when you’re not as competitive as you’d like.
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“If that’s our off weekend [in Austria] and we finish second, that’s good for us. We need to understand our car better to not make the same mistake. Hopefully we won’t do that again.”
When asked whether Ferrari and Red Bull could be battling another team in France, he responded: “I dont know, maybe. I don’t pay a lot of attention to that. It’s more important to get the best out of ourselves because it’s not been as straightforward as I would like.”
Although plenty of the hype heading into this weekend is centred around seven-time world champion Hamilton, it is actually George Russell who, on the whole, has been Mercedes’ star performer in 2022. Having just made the step up from Williams, the youngster has finished in the top five in all but one Grand Prix this year, with an unfortunate DNF at Silverstone ending his streak.
But Hamilton is the one gathering momentum, and he has finished on the podium in each of the last three races. Former world champion Damon Hill and 10-time Grand Prix winner Gerhard Berger recently had an entertaining debate on how they see it panning out at Circuit Paul Ricard.
When Hill ambitiously proposed the prospect of a Hamilton and Russell one-two on the F1 Nation podcast, the Austrian responded: “What’s going on with you guys, are you drinking or what? The Mercedes hasn’t worked really well anywhere this year. It could be maybe a bit better, but I don’t think it will go so much in this direction that they suddenly will play a role to win the race.
“Paul Ricard has always been a little bit different. It’s very smooth. It’s a very different style of circuit. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mercedes works a bit better there, it’s very flat. But in general, it will be again a fight between Red Bull and Ferrari.”