Lewis Hamilton heard the warning loud and clear on Sunday after he and Mercedes were soundly beaten by a resurgent Red Bull and Max Verstappen at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
The Briton, chasing his seventh world title, still leads the drivers’ standings on 107 points but Verstappen, courtesy of his win at Silverstone, has moved into second spot on 77 points.
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas is third, a further four points adrift.
His three wins this season put him on a career total of 87, just four shy of Michael Schumacher’s Formula One record. The German’s seven world titles is another of Hamilton’s targets.
After Red Bull’s performance over the weekend – aided by a clever choice by the team’s senior strategy engineer Hannah Schmitz to start the race on hard compound tyres while most of their rivals opted for mediums – Hamilton was taking nothing for granted.
“It will be interesting to see their progression through the rest of the year,” he said. “I don’t think it will be easy (for us) by any means.”
Tactics certainly played their part but equally pivotal was Verstappen’s courage and speed behind the wheel.
“Max was just chilling out at the beginning of the race, we had them covered today,” said team boss Christian Horner. “Whatever they did, when they pitted, they could not pull away – Max was able to cover them.”
Verstappen had been second in the previous two races and third in the one before that, the Steiermark Grand Prix in Austria.
If the Dutchman had not retired in the Austrian opener with a technical problem while in second place, the gap to Hamilton would be a lot narrower but he was under no illusions about the task ahead.
“That was very satisfying for us,” said the 22-year-old. “We could have won last week when they had tyre blowouts, but that would not have been the same, but today was very good because we beat them on pure pace.”
He said he believed Red Bull can move closer to the speed of the Mercedes and sometimes put pressure on them, notably in hot conditions like those at Silverstone last Sunday and forecast for this week’s Spanish Grand Prix in Catalonia.
He showed, also, that he has plenty in reserve when he is racing by producing a series of quips during the race as he headed to victory.
When he was asked to ease off in the early stages, to save his tyres, he rejected the idea saying “this is our chance to close up to the Mercedes – so I’m not going to drive like a grandma and follow them.”