|Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton gives a press conference in Monaco, on May 19, 2021, ahead of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix.(Sebastien Nogier / POOL / AFP) |
The Mercedes seven-time champion leads Verstappen by 14 points after four races in what is emerging as a gripping two-horse race for the 2021 drivers crown.
The pair have produced some electric wheel-to-wheel action and Hamilton, who has three wins to Verstappen's one, acknowledged the "respect between us".
Their two cars have touched only once, at the first corner in Imola, with Hamilton saying: "I think I've done well to avoid all the incidents so far, but we've got 19 more (races) to go and we could connect, hopefully not."
He added: "I think perhaps (Max) feels he has a lot to prove.
"I'm not necessarily in the same boat there and I'm more long-term, 'it's a marathon not a sprint' sort of mentality, which is ultimately why I have the stats that I have.
"So I'll continue with that and I'll do everything to make sure that we avoid connecting."
Verstappen responded when appearing later at the same Monaco media briefing, saying "I have nothing to prove".
"And avoiding contact, I think it goes both ways. So we have done well, that's true. But we race hard, we've avoided contact both sides, so let's hope we can keep doing that and keep being on track and racing hard against each other."
Monaco's iconic street circuit is back on the F1 menu after last year's race was dropped from the coronavirus-disrupted season.
The presence of 7,500 fans is also an indication that gradually a degree of normalcy is returning to the sport's landscape.
In 2019 Hamilton narrowly held off Verstappen to claim his third win in Monaco, and given Red Bull's improved performance this term he anticipates a ferocious fight on Sunday.
"Red Bull are going to be very, very hard to beat this weekend. This is a track that has always been strong for them, and given how close the gap is between us, you can imagine this weekend they could be ahead," said the Briton.
- 'Unique' -
"But we're going to do everything we can to make sure that's not the case."
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff agreed.
"We head into the weekend knowing they are the team to beat," said the Austrian who was thrilled to be back at the legendary F1 venue.
"It's such a unique, intense weekend for the drivers and the team, with no margin for error. It puts the fire under your ass, and we love the challenge."
With Friday a rest day in Monaco first and second practice is held unusually on Thursday, ahead of third practice and qualifying on Saturday.
The narrow streets make overtaking tricky, placing even greater emphasis on a front row seat in Sunday's grid - 11 of the past 15 winners started on pole.
Hamilton is going for his 101st pole position and 99th win this weekend, while Verstappen has yet to take the chequered flag in the Principality.
Sunday's spin on the Mediterranean coast marks a significant milestone for Williams with the British team celebrating their 750th grand prix start.
Given the anniversary George Russell and Nicholas Latifi will be hoping to get their first points of the season on the board.
The only other two teams to pass the 750-race mark are Ferrari and the resurgent McLaren who on Wednesday rewarded Lando Norris for his fine start with a multi-year contract.
The 21-year-old is flying high in fourth place in the drivers standings, with his teammate Daniel Ricciardo, a two-time winner in Monaco, in seventh.
In fifth in the 2021 drivers' title race is Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who knows the circuit's twists and turns and bumps better than anyone being a local - his mum used to cut Monaco resident David Coulthard's hair.