Max Verstappen ‘keeping Lewis Hamilton interested’ as Mercedes star eyes British GP battle

Lewis Hamilton's 'natural ability is fantastic' says Button

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One-time Formula One world champion Jenson Button has suggested that Max Verstappen’s emergence as a genuine title contender has impacted Lewis Hamilton’s decision to sign a new contract with Mercedes. The 36-year-old has agreed a two-year extension with the Silver Arrows that will ensure his presence on the grid until at least the end of the 2023 campaign.

Hamilton has been utterly dominant since Nico Rosberg’s retirement after the latter’s Drivers’ Championship triumph in 2016, scooping every available end-of-season accolade in the years since.

However, the man from Stevenage appears to be facing an uphill battle this time around as he attempts to clinch a record-breaking eighth title.

Verstappen has surged into a 32-point lead at the top of the standings after winning five of the opening nine races, with Hamilton struggling to keep up with the Red Bull talisman over the course of the campaign to date.

The Dutchman will be looking to extend his advantage with another formidable performance at the British Grand Prix on Sunday.

Speaking ahead of the upcoming event at Silverstone, Button suggested that Verstappen’s imperious form has helped Hamilton to realise that he still has something left to prove in F1, sparking the Mercedes man’s decision to renew.

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“I think Lewis is enjoying it, he’s enjoying the fight with someone,” Button told Sky Sports. “He knows how talented Max is and how good Red Bull are.

“It’s an exciting fight for him and that’s what’s keeping him interested in F1 and why he’s probably get this new contract for the next two years.”

Switching his focus to Sunday’s British Grand Prix, Button admitted that he was unable to predict the result, underlining Hamilton’s recent shortcomings but refusing to write off the might of Mercedes.

“Most of the years we get three of four races into the season and we think it’s going to be a Mercedes championship it’s probably going to be Lewis Hamilton,” added Button.

“This year he has a challenge on his hands. I know that he is behind in the championship at the moment to Max, but he will be fighting later in the year I have a feeling.

“Silverstone is a circuit where their car works really well so it should be a really close fight with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.”

Hamilton has failed to win a single race since his victory at the Spanish Grand Prix back in May, but the defending champion will fancy his chances in front of a 140,000-strong home crowd on Sunday.

The event at Silverstone will see a brand-new sprint qualifying format trialled on Saturday evening, with the Mercedes star voicing his concerns over the move earlier this month.

He told Autosport that he is not expecting the first sprint race to provide too much of a spectacle for onlookers, suggesting that many drivers will approach the proposed format with plenty of caution.

“Not particularly,” he replied when asked if he was on board with the plans. “It’s going to be a train, probably.

“Hopefully there’ll be some overtaking, but it most likely won’t be too exciting.”

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