Hamilton set to resume battle with Verstappen at Imola


IMOLA, Italy — World champion Lewis Hamilton won’t change his approach despite seeing a rival from another team threaten his and Mercedes’ dominance of Formula One.

Hamilton has won the title in six of the past seven seasons, with his stranglehold on the crown only being interrupted in 2016 by then-Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

Hamilton’s current teammate, Valtteri Bottas, finished runner-up to the British driver in the past two seasons.

But, after a thrilling duel at the season opener in Bahrain, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen appears set to push Hamilton even closer this year.

Hamilton doesn’t seem rattled, though.

“We approach every weekend the same as we always have. … If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” Hamilton said on Thursday ahead of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. “We do what we do, we love the challenge. It’s exciting for all of us that we do have such a challenge on our hands and it’s not one that we shy away from.”

Hamilton just managed to hold off Verstappen to win the season-opening Bahrain GP last month.

The race was effectively decided when Verstappen overtook Hamilton on lap 53 of 56 but went too wide on a turn and off the track limits. He was told by his team to give Hamilton the position back, as he risked a time penalty.

Verstappen still had a few laps to catch Hamilton and almost did, finishing 0.74 seconds behind the Mercedes driver.

But the 23-year-old Verstappen appeared calm and philosophical about matters ahead of the second race of the fledgling season.

“I think it makes no sense to start smashing things, or throw things first of all,” he said. “Of course when I crossed the line I was disappointed, but I think I’ve learned over the years that there is nothing lost after the first race.

“The most important thing is to score points, not like last year where you’re off the pace and you don’t even score points, so this time we had a very competitive package in general, and we scored good points. Not first, but still second, so it’s not the end of the world.”

Verstappen certainly appears a force to be reckoned with this season. He took a superb pole position in Sakhir as he continued his form from preseason testing and last year’s season-ending Abu Dhabi GP, which he won.

His tussle with Hamilton looks set to continue at Imola, with Verstappen and his team keen to not let another chance slip them by.

“I think (Bahrain was) definitely an opportunity missed, but I think if we have the fastest car then it’s not going to matter, because then we have 22 races to finish in front of them,” Verstappen said. “But we’ll see about that.”

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