Lewis Hamilton denies pressure is getting to him in battle with Max Verstappen

Lewis Hamilton said he is not wilting under the pressure from championship rival Max Verstappen – insisting he was not to blame for his late mistake in Azerbaijan.

Hamilton had the opportunity to capitalise on Verstappen’s high-speed puncture in Baku to move as many as 14 points clear of his Red Bull rival.

But the seven-time world champion ran off the road as he attempted to pass Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez for victory on the penultimate lap.

It later transpired that Hamilton, 36, had inadvertently hit a button on his Mercedes steering wheel which effectively left him with no brakes in his assault on Perez.

Hamilton has been largely flawless in his march to six of the last seven world championships, but his error at the last race was his second in six rounds after he slid into the tyre wall as he hunted Verstappen at the rain-hit race in Imola.

Gerhard Berger, the former Ferrari and McLaren driver, this week claimed that the presence of Verstappen is placing greater strain on Hamilton.

But speaking ahead of Sunday’s French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit, Hamilton, who is four points behind his rival, said: “Max was not in the race at the time so I definitely wasn’t under pressure from him.

“I don’t feel any pressure, I feel pretty relaxed and you cannot always be perfect.

“A mistake is often when you drive off the track after missing your braking point or hitting the wall but it was an unforced error in Baku that could have happened in any point but it hit us hard.

“I don’t count it as a mistake and I don’t even know what the mistake before that was.”

Hamilton also revealed that the so-called “magic” button on the back of his steering wheel – which helps him increase tyre temperature by altering the brake balance – has been covered to avoid a repeat of his accident in Baku.

Verstappen and Red Bull hold the initiative in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships following two poor rounds in Monaco and Azerbaijan for Mercedes.

Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who started 10th and finished only 12th in Baku, is facing increasing scrutiny over his seat at Mercedes, with Englishman George Russell waiting in the wings.

Bottas has slipped to sixth in the standings and 58 points behind Verstappen following his worst start to a season in six years with the Silver Arrows.

“I have not thought about the future that deeply,” said the Finn.

“You cannot block the noise that is around and every season. It is the same, the same questions and the same speculation and that is part of the sport.

“I have not discussed anything about the contract with Mercedes. That will come eventually. The focus is on the triple headers and maybe we will sit down after that at some point.

“My gut feeling at the moment? I have not allowed myself to think about it too much because it can be a distraction. I just want to win races.”