Martin Brundle has warned Max Verstappen that rival Lewis Hamilton is not ready to hand over the Formula One title-winning baton as the seven-time world champion shows no let-up in his fight for a record eighth crown.
Verstappen holds a slender lead of just eight points with two races to go and there was little to split the title protagonists on the first day of practice at the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Hamilton set the pace in first practice, edging out Verstappen’s Red Bull by 0.056 seconds and followed that up by being fastest in the second practice, with Verstappen down in fourth as a big crash for the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc ended the session early.
The speed of Hamilton’s Mercedes once again showed he is up for the fight, having won the last two races to reduce the gap in the drivers’ standings and keep alive his hopes of eclipsing Michael Schumacher to become the only eight-time F1 champion.
Verstappen, meanwhile, is aiming for a maiden crown but Brundle insists the Dutchman should not see any potential title victory as the end of Hamilton’s dominance.
Asked if the current fight had a feeling of the changing of the guard to it, Sky pundit Brundle replied: “I do – but one guard doesn’t want to move over does he?
“Lewis is 37 in January and he’s got all the glory, all the money. I think I described it as a trophy warehouse he must have by now – it’s not a room is it, or a cabinet?
“He still seems to have all the same motivation and work ethic, work-rate and determination I’ve ever seen him have.”
Brundle also turned to football when asked if he would rather be the hunter or the hunted in the narrow title fight.
“I’d rather have the speed than the points right now,” he said.
“A good soccer analogy – you’d rather have the points than the games in hand.
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“I think, if Lewis carries on at that rate of knots and if Valtteri (Bottas) can get involved and have one of his on-form days, then who knows?
“One mishap around here and Max is the world champion, one mishap for Lewis…because it wouldn’t be difficult around here, that’s for sure.”
This was the first day a Formula One car had driven around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in earnest – although Brundle himself had taken an old edition for a spin on Thursday evening – with Leclerc’s smash into the barrier at turn 22 showing there is no room for error on the fastest street track in the sport.
“I think there are some areas you need to pay a lot of respect to,” Brundle said of the latest track to host F1.
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“It comes at you thick and fast. You constantly seem to be going around a blind wall. There are a couple of corners you don’t want to crash on – 22 and 23 would be primary in that where it’s marginal to say the least.
“It is sketchy in places, dangerous I think it’s too strong a word, but definitely sketchy.
“This place will bite. In a way this is brilliant towards the end of the season but if I was Red Bull and Mercedes I would be thinking: ‘I don’t need the extra jeopardy of this place right now’.
“We want all the jeopardy and the surprise and I think that is what has made it such a great year – we’ve had that jeopardy this year.
“I think it’s what F1 needed to be honest. Another victory at a canter for Lewis or Mercedes would have had everybody yawning by half-season.”