Nico Hulkenberg finds it “crazy” how “cool” Max Verstappen is being this season given it’s his first title fight.
With just two rounds of the 2021 campaign, the Red Bull driver leads Lewis Hamilton by eight points in his bid to become the Netherlands’ first F1 World Champion.
The levels of experience the two contenders have couldn’t be more different with it being the first time Verstappen has been properly involved in a title fight at all, while the Mercedes man has claimed seven World Championships and narrowly missed out on three others.
Bearing that in mind, Hulkenberg is blown away by how little the pressure seems to be getting to the 24-year-old.
‘These guys don’t get nervous, those are just normal things in a race,” he told Servus TV when asked if the drivers sounded nervous over the team radio in Qatar.
“Lewis is not nervous, he is already fighting for his eighth World title.
“From Max, it’s crazy how cool he is when you realise this is his first fight for a World title”
The German has also praised the mental state of Hamilton, feeling that the numerous setbacks he was faced with in the Brazilian Grand Prix that he went on to win in stunning fashion may well have spurred him on.
”It is possible that Lewis was spurred on by the difficult weekend in Brazil,” he added. “It was a sensational performance from Lewis, faultless. Psychology certainly plays a part here.
“Lewis drove a perfect qualifying lap in Doha, you could see that from the onboard footage.”
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) November 21, 2021
Hamilton followed that victory in Brazil up with another one in Qatar, and his life was made easier there by the fact that Verstappen started the race down in P7 after being given a grid penalty for failing to slow down for yellows flags in qualifying.
Towards the end of the session, marshals waved yellows after Pierre Gasly pulled over on the side of the pit-straight with a puncture, but race control never officially imposed the non-racing conditions themselves, meaning the Dutchman never got a yellow light on his steering wheel.
Given that, Hulkenberg understands why he didn’t slow down.
“It’s understandable that Max went full throttle in qualifying,” he said.
“The car was on the right, the marshal on the left. That man had waved on his own initiative, even though the race control no longer issued a yellow flag.”
He also praised the driver for taking a photo with the marshal criticised by Christian Horner at the end of the weekend.
“It shows humanity and greatness that Max went to the marshal afterwards and took a photo with him,” he added.