Two-time Formula One world champion Mika Hakkinen has suggested that Max Verstappen can win this year’s Drivers’ Championship title by cutting out the mistakes that have proved to be the difference between the Red Bull man and Lewis Hamilton in recent weeks. The latter extended his advantage at the top of the standings to seven points by winning the Portuguese Grand Prix on Sunday with a thoroughly impressive drive.
Hamilton was pipped to pole by team-mate Valtteri Bottas in qualifying, and slipped to third with seven laps gone at Portimao with Verstappen sneaking ahead at the safety car restart.
However, the Mercedes star surged into the lead on lap 20 and comfortably held on to claim his second victory of the new season.
The result came as a welcome reward for the Silver Arrows, who have been slower than Red Bull in terms of outright performance since pre-season testing.
Their hard work paid dividends at Portimao, with Hamilton winning and Bottas nicking third place and the fastest lap.
Verstappen crossed the line in second, but could have pushed for the victory if he was not denied pole position for exceeding track limits in qualifying.
He made a similar mistake towards the end of Sunday’s race, missing out on an extra point for the fastest lap after his time was deleted, and was previously ordered to surrender the lead in Bahrain after drifting too wide in order to squeeze past Hamilton.
Although the balance of power appears to be swinging back in favour of Mercedes ahead of this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, Hakkinen believes that Verstappen can claw his way back by striving for perfection at every opportunity between now and the end of the season.
“Red Bull and Honda have done a fantastic job, but Mercedes have recovered quickly after a less competitive start to the year,” wrote Hakkinen in his column for Unibet.
“One of the strengths of Mercedes is their ability to react, so although I think that the Portimao circuit suited their cars slightly more than the Red Bulls, Lewis and Valtteri really do have an exceptionally strong technical team supporting them.
“One area of frustration for Max has been track limit penalties. He should have won in Bahrain and could have taken pole position and set the fastest lap in Portugal.
“But each time he put all four wheels over the line at some point on the circuit. It is so easy to do, but you cannot afford to make small mistakes like that.
“To beat Lewis, Max needs to do a perfect job each weekend.”
This year’s governance of track limits has been controversial to say the least, with aggrieved drivers and onlookers pointing out inconsistencies in the FIA’s handling of a number of situations.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was clearly frustrated after Sunday’s race, claiming that harsh decisions could have a significant impact on the Drivers’ Championship picture if Verstappen’s fight with Hamilton goes down to the wire.
“Track limits are a point of contention and the consistency of their application,” Horner told Sky Sports F1.
“This championship will come down to the marginals and it is still at an early stage. We saw Lewis make a howler of a mistake [at Imola] but he got away with it.
“These things happen, but Max is driving the wheels off the car and it is super, super tight between them.”