Lewis Hamilton’s eighth British Grand Prix win has been clouded by controversy surrounding his lap 1 incident with championship contender Max Verstappen
By Olivia Kairu
Max Verstappen started Sunday’s British Grand Prix on pole and 33 points ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship.
He was soon headed to a local hospital after a 51G first lap crash caused by contact with his Mercedes rival. Hamilton, despite a 10-second penalty, went on to win the race, trimming the gap in the standings to eight points.
The British driver was held responsible for the collision, which happened shortly after the start in the Copse corner – the fastest on the Silverstone circuit.
The title contenders engaged in intense wheel-to-wheel combat through multiple corners as soon as the lights went off. When they made it to the pit straight before Copse, Turn 9, Hamilton lunged on the inside of Verstappen’s Red Bull. Hamilton’s tighter line and Verstappen’s signature aggressive defending made it difficult for the Briton to commit to the overtake, leaving him only with the option of backing out.
As both cars turned in with the Mercedes slightly behind the Red Bull, Hamilton’s front-left tire clipped Verstappen’s front-right at approximately 290 km/h, sending the Dutch driver hurtling at 51G into the barrier and ending the championship leader’s race.
With the help of trackside marshalls and medical rescue doctor Ian Roberts, Verstappen eased concerns by walking away from the scene – even if he was visibly shaken.
“He (Verstappen) was a little bit winded, to say the least,” Roberts stated. “He got out with a little bit of help and is now off to hospital for routine check-ups. As we were coming round the corner it looked as if we were looking at a roll. Fortunately not but it was still a pretty impressive impact into the tyres.”
Verstappen was released from the hospital on Sunday afternoon.
The drivers’ point of view
The Dutch driver confirmed on social media that he was in recovery following the high-impact crash, but expressed discontent with Hamilton’s actions.
“First of all: I am glad I’m ok. It was quite an impact at 51G but feeling better,” Verstappen’s post read. “Obviously very disappointed with being taken out like this. The penalty given does not help us in any way and doesn’t do justice to the dangerous move Lewis made on track. Watching the celebrations after the race while still in hospital is disrespectful and unsportsmanlike behaviour but we move on.”
Speaking in a post-race interview, the seven-time world champion offered his side of things.
“I tried to give him the space but I was quite a long way up the inside into 9 and none of us backed out and that was the end result,” Hamilton said. “I dummied him, moved to the right for that gap and I was pretty far up alongside him but I then could see he wasn’t going to back out, and we went into the corner, and we collided.
“But, regardless of whether I agree with the penalty, I take it on the chin and I just kept working,” he added. “When someone’s too aggressive, these things are bound to happen. There’s not really much more for me to say–hope he’s OK because of course, I would love to have a wheel-to-wheel battle for the whole race, I enjoy racing with him and I’m looking forward–but I will never back down from anyone and I will not be bullied into being less aggressive.”
But the consequences of Verstappen’s and Hamilton’s first big on-track encounter as 2021 championship contenders were far from over. The incident has since sparked fierce debate, leaving the Formula 1 world heavily divided after what has become the most intense and defining point of the 2021 championship so far.
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Red Bull adds fuel to the fire
Among the heavily divided is the enraged Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. He placed full blame on the Mercedes driver and labelled his overtake move as “desperate” and his eighth victory in Silverstone as “hollow” while speaking to England’s Channel 4.
“I think it was a desperate move. He failed to make the move in the first part of the lap, which he was obviously geared to do, and then it was just a desperate move sticking a wheel up the inside which you just don’t do,” said Horner. “Copse is one of the fastest corners in the world. You don’t stick a wheel up the inside. That’s just dirty driving. Thank God he walked away. That’s the biggest positive that we have today.”
A more composed Mercedes team principal and CEO Toto Wolff dubbed the accident a racing incident that took an unfortunate turn for their rival outfit.
“It’s a high-speed corner … these things are nasty to look at, but there is a clear regulation and that is something that is black and white on paper and as a racing driver, you may have a different perspective from the car, but you need to exactly understand that if the front axle is over the middle of the car on the outside, it’s your corner,” Wolff said.
“At the end they were racing each other hard. During the race we saw overtaking there, Charles and Lewis was another example, and I think you just need to give each other (room). That would have been my opinion.”
Red Bull’s chief advisor Helmut Marko went even further than Horner, asking for Hamilton to be handed a one-race ban while speaking to Sky Germany.
“I don’t know what the maximum penalty would be, but such dangerous and reckless behaviour should be punished with a suspension or something,” said Marko. “If a competitor massively touches our rear wheel with his front wheel, then that’s no longer a racing accident in the fastest corner of the course,” he said. “That is negligent to dangerous behaviour.”
Marko has previously been vocal in his discontent with Hamilton’s overtake attempts, saying the Briton is to blame for the “destruction” of former Red Bull F1 driver Alex Albon’s career following two collisions with the Thai driver at the 2019 Brazilian GP and 2020 Austrian GP.
Albon was on his way for a podium finish on both occasions but a collision prevented the outcome.
Still not ready to move on, Red Bull has hired a lawyer to “to investigate what we can do in such a situation within the frameworks of sports law,” as said Marko on Tuesday.
Mercedes stood firm in their belief that the penalty was unwarranted.
“We didn’t think the penalty was deserved,” Mercedes’ head trackside engineering Andrew Shovlin said. “If you look at the guide that the stewards have to determine who is at fault in terms of overtaking, Lewis was sufficiently alongside and we felt that Max should have given him racing room.”
Shovlin added that the red flag gave the Brackley-based unit time to assess the damage on Hamilton’s car and repair the front-left wheel rim which had the potential to end his race. “That would have been a DNF had it (the race) not been red-flagged. To be honest, it was really nice sitting on the pit wall just watching that final stint unfold, because it was a great win and a well-deserved win for Lewis.”
Leclerc and Bottas, who were running right behind, weigh in
Charles Leclerc led the British GP for 49 of the 52 laps until Hamilton overtook him at Copse – of all places. Before taking charge of the race, the Ferrari driver had a front-row seat to the Turn 9 calamity as he was running behind the two championship contenders.
The Monegasque said he felt Hamilton missed the apex but Verstappen was also at fault due to his aggressive approach. At the end of the day, it was a racing accident in his opinion.
“It is very difficult to judge it from the car. We are very low (and close to the ground to have a proper view), so it’s difficult to see,” said Leclerc. “Everything went very quick. Obviously I could see there were quite a bit of things going around in front of me. And yeah, I think it’s a racing incident.”
“It’s quite difficult to put the blame on one or the other. Obviously there was space on the inside. Maybe Lewis was not completely at the apex but it’s also true that Max was quite aggressive on the outside. So, things happen. What is the most important today is that Max is unharmed and is fine.”
Valtteri Bottas, who was racing in P4 at that moment after being overtaken by Leclerc, had the same opinion.
“I saw them fight on Lap 1, a bit like yesterday. I had a feeling something was going to happen,” said the Finn. “Obviously they were fighting hard. That kind of thing it happens, that’s racing. It can happen when you fight hard, when you don’t give up, but also I’m just happy Max is fine because it was a big shunt. But I also I really feel that Lewis fully deserved the win today.”
Race stewards continue to face controversy
Following the Austrian Grand Prix, where the FIA and race stewards were heavily scrutinised for issuing multiple sanctions, F1 race director Michael Masi faced questions on the investigation process after issuing Lewis Hamilton a 10-second penalty and two points on his super license.
Masi insisted that all penalties aren’t issued in response to the severity or consequences of the incidents but for the accidents themselves. He maintained that the decision to penalize Hamilton had nothing to do with Verstappen’s retirement and the championship title.
“I think one of the big parts that’s been a mainstay for many, many years,” said Masi. “And this came through discussions prior to my time between all of the teams, the FIA and F1, and the team principals were all quite adamant, is that you should not consider the consequences in an incident. So when they judge an incident they judge the incident itself, and the merits of the incident, not what happens afterwards as a consequence. And that’s been something that the stewards have done for many years.”
Wolff and Horner were heard in conversation with the steward’s office during the race with both team principals stating their case. Masi assured it had little to no effect on the final decision made.
“I’m talking team involvement, and so forth,” he added. “So that’s the way that the stewards judge it, because start taking consequences into account, there’s so many variables, rather than judging the incident itself on its merits.”
Father knows best
Amongst the 140,000 in the Silverstone crowd were former Formula 1 driver and Max Verstappen’s father Jos Verstappen, and Lewis Hamilton’s former manager and father Anthony Hamilton, who both shared their contrasting views on the Lap 1 incident.
Verstappen Senior was unhappy with the lack of penalty severity for the incident, which he believes was a result of Hamilton’s actions.
“It really can’t be what Hamilton did there, in that place,” he said to De Telegraaf. “I think a 10-second time penalty is really ridiculous. As far as I’m concerned, they could have disqualified him from the race. Max gave him space and just sat in front of him, so you can’t overtake on the inside.”
Anthony Hamilton also followed his fatherly instincts and came to his son’s defence, claiming the Mercedes driver was also not at fault and was therefore undeserving of the penalty.
“At the end of the day, it’s a race incident and 99 times out of 100 it’s a race incident. What do you want then? Drivers lining up neatly on the straight and then taking it easy? This is a race,” Hamilton Senior said to Sky Sports.
He went on to assure that the off-track relationship between the two drivers was in good form and that none had ill-feelings toward the other.
“Lewis has no problems with Max. Both of those guys go out on the track and want to have a good race. Sometimes things don’t go the way you want. That’s racing.”
Racing incident or not, it’s undeniable the British Grand Prix accident has the potential to be a turning point when it comes to the 2021 season championship fight.
It’s also safe to say the Hamilton and Verstappen encounter in Silverstone likely won’t be their last until one of them lifts the drivers’ trophy at the end of the season.
After ten races and with only eight points between the drivers, the fight remains on – spicier than ever.