Former F1 driver and BBC pundit Jolyon Palmer says arch-rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are bound to crash into each other at some point this season.
Hamilton just barely had the upper hand over the Red Bull driver in Bahrain while the Dutchman reversed the order with a dominant performance at Imola last weekend.
As Mercedes’ W12 plays catch up with Red Bull’s RB16B charger, the on-track battle between the championship’s two main protagonists will only grow as the season unfolds, much to the thrill of the fans.
Palmer believes that Hamilton is dealing this year with his most tough opponent since Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2007.
“This race [Imola], if anything has absolutely shown us who will be fighting for the championship this year, and when you’re fighting with your rival you can take more risks because if you get it wrong you’re probably going to take both out,” said Palmer during the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast.
“If you’re fighting your championship rival you can get your elbows out a bit more, be more argy-bargy. It showed the aggression I’m looking forward to seeing over the next 21 races.
“I think Lewis knows this is the title battle of his career. He had them in 2007 and 2008…but okay, the title battle of the decade.
“He’s not had a challenger as good as Verstappen, maybe since Fernando Alonso in the same team, but that was when he was a rookie.
“This is a challenger more fierce than Felipe Massa ever was in 2008.
“We harp back to the Rosberg days but they would rather crash with each other than finish behind each other. It’s the same now. That’s the fierce rivalry that’s already been born for this season.”
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Palmer reckons the wheel-to-wheel tussle witnessed at the start of the Emilia Romagna GP between Verstappen and Hamilton was not only a precursor to more skirmishes but suggested that an inevitable major fracas between the two challengers lies ahead.
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“Hamilton took a risk at the start of the race because he would rather neither of them finished the race, probably, than finish second behind Verstappen,” added the former Renault driver.
“That was the thing with Rosberg and Hamilton – better to take chances in 50-50 moments and put your car in the position where you might have a crash if he turns in.
“You might risk a bit of contact here or there. When it’s your rival, you’ve got to do it and I think we’re going to see a crash between them at some point and I don’t know how we didn’t at Imola.”
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