It has been brought to Max Verstappen’s attention that Lewis Hamilton can barely permit himself to refer to him by name.
When asked at press conferences about the deeds of the Dutchman who dethroned him as world champion, Hamilton will deflect his praise on to Red Bull’s superior machinery and talk of ‘they’ and ‘them’ and not ‘Max’ and ‘he’.
The antagonism goes back to last year’s crash-punctuated title fight that only partly ended in the controversy of the last race Abu Dhabi, where Verstappen was helped by the withdrawal of a safety car to pass Hamilton on the final lap.
Cue revenge. Mercedes lobbied successfully for race director Michael Masi to be fired for his pivotal role in events. And only last Friday, Red Bull were found to have broken the budget cap for 2021, another bowl of intrigue in which Mercedes’ silver spoon could be detected.
So this is the context in which Hamilton, winless this season, has refused to deploy the word ‘Max’ as his 25-year-old rival has charged to his second championship success with 13 victories heading into Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix.
‘People have told me that he doesn’t use my name,’ said Verstappen, with a smile, in an interview with The Mail on Sunday.