Max Verstappen given hero's welcome on return to Red Bull HQ after historic F1 title as team set off orange flares

MAX VERSTAPPEN claims there were moments where he and Lewis Hamilton HATED each other this season.

The two had a titanic and controversial tussle for the F1 title with the Dutchman coming out on top – albeit subjected to a Mercedes appeal.



They famously came to blows at Silverstone, Monza and in Saudi Arabia before their explosive finale in Abu Dhabi last Sunday.

Verstappen, 24, says his fight with Hamilton has been intense and said the Mercedes man was the toughest racer he'd faced.

He said: "The little moment we had after the race already, you look each other in the eye. You don't say a lot but you do relate a lot throughout the whole season and you actually really appreciate the fight.

"Sometimes we did hate each other, but that's fine, that's the competitive spirit both of us have.

"He is an incredible driver and this year in most of the races we have been pushing flat out.

"Also, for the team it was very stressful, every weekend they had to be perfect because we knew if they made a mistake, either would be ahead.

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Verstappen arrived in an orange sports car as the flares were being set offCredit: Getty

"That made it just very intense and in a few months time also for next year you can look back at it and really appreciate these moments.

"I appreciate Lewis's talent for sure, he is a very tough competitor, probably the toughest one I've had to fight for sure."

Verstappen also admits his victory in Abu Dhabi was "lucky" after FIA stewards interfered on the final lap of the race – much to Merc's anger.

But the reality is, Verstappen only raced to the green flag and beat what was ahead of him and that should in no way taint the outcome of the whole championship, where he was excellent.

Speaking at the team's HQ in Milton Keynes on Wednesday where he was given a hero's welcome, Verstappen added: "We have won it on track.

"People say, it was a lucky win. Absolutely, the win was very lucky but we also have been very unlucky throughout the season, otherwise the championship would have been decided way earlier, even with the dominance Mercedes had towards the end of the season.

"Sometimes a little bit of luck in your life is nice as well. I'm not sweating [about Mercedes' potential to appeal].

"It was an amazing moment with the whole team and I do think we deserve it. It was very painful for Lewis and I would also be hurt in the way he lost it."

Red Bull boss Christian Horner admits they cannot fully celebrate Verstappen's win until Mercedes decides to pull out of their protest against the decisions of race director Michael Masi.

However, somewhat crucially, Horner says he has received messages of congratulations from his opposite number at Merc Toto Wolff and Daimler chairman and head of Mercedes-Benz, Ola Kallenius.

Horner said: "I don't think it's official until it's official. But as far as we're concerned Max is the world champion until someone says otherwise.

"Toto sent Max a text on Sunday evening. I went to see him and he wasn't available. Ola Kallenius congratulated me on the championship and said they'd fight hard next year.

"Toto indeed texted me as well on Sunday evening. It was perfectly cordial.

"He said, 'Sorry I couldn't be there to receive you when you came to see us. Congratulations on the drivers' championship with Max. He's a worthy champion and a fierce competitor. Enjoy your evening. You've earned it.'

"And I said to him, 'Thank you very much, Toto. I know it's been an intense season but respect has always been there. Congratulations on your constructors' championship. Remember, that's where the money is.'"

Meanwhile, Horner says that under-fire Masi needs more support in his role as race director and added that he doesn't want to see the Australian axed from the role by the FIA.

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He added: "I think it would be incredibly hard to take [his job] off him. He just needs more support.

"He needs more backup. He needs more tools available to him. And I think probably regulations need looking at to give him that empowerment.

"Michael has been under massive pressure from all sides. He's not just got the two teams this year. He's got all of the teams and I'm sure they're all giving him grief.

"I think that the takeaway from this season – not just from Abu Dhabi – is how can we do a better job? How can the FIA do a better job?"

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