Max Verstappen said Lewis Hamilton is likely to get a hostile reception from a fiercely partisan crowd at the Dutch Grand Prix this weekend and the world champion responded bullishly with his belief it was not respectful to any driver.
Speaking at the Zandvoort circuit, Hamilton also gave a clear indication he was willing to welcome Williams’ George Russell as his new teammate at Mercedes next season.
Hamilton and Verstappen are locked in a closely fought title fight with Hamilton leading by three points but the tension between the pair has ratcheted up in the last three races with Hamilton booed by Verstappen’s fans at both the Hungarian and the Belgian grands prix.
Formula One is returning to the Netherlands for the first time since 1985 and 70,000 fans are expected to attend for Verstappen’s home GP. The Dutchman, however, declined to request that his fans did not boo the world champion.
“When you go to a football match you come into a home ground, the opposition will be booed at some point,” he said. “It will naturally happen. They are very passionate and support their local team. I don’t think it’s up to me say: ‘Guys, you cannot boo.’ Of course, some of them will but I cannot decide for them. I could say ‘You cannot do this’ but do you really think they will listen to me?”
Hamilton has previously said he is only spurred on by the booing but after Belgium he referred to those doing so as “having hate in their hearts towards me”. At Zandvoort he contrasted their behaviour with the fans at his home GP.
“The British fans don’t do the booing, right?” he said. “They’re amazing. They’re just there for a great weekend. I just don’t agree with it, in general, for anyone. Everyone’s there to do the best job they can and everyone’s trying to be the best they can be. Again, it’s part of sport and you see it.
“I’ve never been someone who would go to an event and boo but I understand it. You see it in football, it’s just a passion that the fans have – or the dislike that some of them have of their opponents.”
With Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen having announced he will retire at the end of this season, the pieces are falling into place for Mercedes to confirm that Russell is to join Hamilton next season. Hamilton’s current teammate Valtteri Bottas is expected to take the seat from his fellow Finn at Alfa Romeo, with both moves expected to be announced at the next round in Monza.
Russell is hugely talented, proved once more with an immense second in qualifying at Spa. Verstappen said he expected the 23-year-old British driver to “make life difficult” for Hamilton. But the world champion was welcoming toward Russell as a potential teammate.
“I think it would be quite good. I honestly think it would be good. I think George is an incredibly talented driver,” Hamilton said. “[George is] the future of the sport, I think he’s already shown incredible driving so far and I’m sure he’s going to continue to grow, so where better to do it than a great team like this.”