Lewis Hamilton said he is revelling in the fight with Sebastian Vettel for the Formula One world championship after he beat the Ferrari driver into second place at the Chinese Grand Prix. Having been in a two-horse race for the past three years with his former Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, and despite taking two championships in that period, Hamilton believes battling for wins and the title means more when it is against a driver and team of the calibre of Vettel and Ferrari.
Hamilton won from pole here but Vettel had the measure of him in pace – as he had when beating him at the first round in Melbourne – but was unlucky with pit stops behind the safety car and was held up when stuck behind his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. Asked if these results meant more because of the pressure the two drivers were exerting on one another Hamilton was quite clear. “It really, really does when you are fighting another team,” he said. “I am fighting a four-time world champion who is at his best and is phenomenally quick. And Ferrari are the best they have been in a decade.”
He continued: “The ultimate fighter always wants to go up against the best battle that you can have because when you come out on top it is so much more satisfying. I love this fight that we are having.”
Vettel was magnanimous in defeat. “The race winner deserves to win, Lewis did the best job,” he said. While he might have had a better shot at catching Hamilton had his team ordered Raikkonen to give way to him, he was unwilling to be critical of the decision. When asked if he could have challenged without losing so much time behind his team-mate, he would not be drawn. “Would, could, should – I think Lewis was quick, full stop,” he said. “To get into these kind of conversations, or discussions, usually there is no point. Today we finished second, very happy with that. More than that, and much more valuable than that, it was an entertaining and fun race for me.”
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who finished third having started from 16th, put in a performance that was rightly praised by his team principal, Christian Horner. He drove a remarkable race passing nine cars on the first lap, calling to mind his spectacular performance in the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix, and Horner said: “He appears to have almost a sixth sense in the wet and he doesn’t seem intimidated by it in any way and is prepared to explore all of the boundaries of the circuit to find where the grip is.”
Horner added that it was an attribute Verstappen shared with the very best. “I think he’s right up there. It’s not a coincidence, now you can see Brazil wasn’t a one off. I remember Sebastian [Vettel] being fantastic in the wet. First race he won here was outstanding. The great drivers always stand out in wet weather conditions. We saw Lewis at Silverstone in 2008 and the great drivers always do make a mark for themselves.”