Lewis Hamilton says "things are normal" in the paddock between himself and rival Max Verstappen, despite the drama and controversy of last season's title fight finale in Abu Dhabi.
It has been nearly four months since Verstappen overtook Hamilton on the final lap at the Yas Marina Circuit, handing the Formula 1 World Championship to the Dutchman.
Since then, with Hamilton momentarily vanishing from the spotlight in the immediate aftermath, the sport has seen plenty of change. There is now a new FIA President, a new Race Director and even new-look cars, built to meet the wildly-different 2022 technical regulations.
But Hamilton and Verstappen remain, ready to fight it out once again ahead of the new season – and despite their relationship remaining "normal", there are no friends on the track, says Hamilton.
Things are "normal" between Hamilton and Verstappen
The rivalry between the two drivers was clear to see throughout the 2021 season, with the Red Bull and Mercedes coming together over and over again.
The pair made contact at Imola, Monza and Jeddah, but no collision proved as infamous as their crash at Silverstone, which left Verstappen in hospital while Hamilton went on to win the race.
"If I had sat and read all the [social media] comments after Silverstone, all the racial abuse, I could have downward spiralled into a very negative place," Hamilton told Sky Sports F1, opening up ahead of the new season. "So, I just don't let that volatile medium control my life.
"You've got to be careful, because the way that the media hype up the drama, that also creates a narrative to the fans.
"For me and Max, when we see each other in the paddock, things are normal. We're two individual drivers who have a lot in common in a sense of how much we love doing what we do, driving."
Hamilton: There are no friends on track
Despite their respect for each other, Hamilton is under no illusion that Verstappen is a fighter, desperate to win at all costs.
The pair will be bracing themselves for yet another fierce title fight throughout 2022, hopeful that their teams have built cars capable of allowing them to compete for regular wins.
"On the other side, we're ruthless. He is ruthless; I am. That's what you have to be, I would imagine, in business, but with a bit of compassion," Hamilton continued.
"We're fighters out there, there are no friends on track. It is like when you go skiing, there's no friends on the powder!
"It's just a constant. Some days we get it right and some days we get it wrong. What is really important is that when we get out [of the car], we are human beings and we keep that respect."
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