Formula One in 2021 has been something pretty special due to the intensity and skill demonstrated by Drivers’ Championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Unfortunately, during Sunday’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the inevitable happened – Verstappen and Hamilton collided and the contact resulted in a DNF for the Dutchman. To say that the incident at Copse Corner, a 200-mph section of the track, has split opinion would be an understatement. Speaking to select media after Sunday’s 72nd iteration of the British Grand Prix, Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team Principal Toto Wolff presented the argument for the defense.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes’ talismanic driver, was handed a 10-second penalty for his move into Copse Corner on the opening lap of Sunday’s British Grand Prix. Nevertheless, this punishment would not prevent Hamilton claiming a record 8th British F1 Grand Prix victory making it an all the more bitter pill for Christian Horner and Red Bull Racing to swallow.
In the minutes after the racing incident/reckless driving between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen (the fans are still split on this one) Red Bull Racing Team Boss Christian Horner was on the radio to F1 Race Director Michael Masi:
“It was 100% Max's corner. So, you know, as far as I'm concerned, full blame lays on Hamilton who should never have been in that position.”
Horner’s opinion did not sway later on as demonstrated in his comments broadcast to Sky F1 as Horner said:
“Max has incurred a 51g accident. Lewis Hamilton’s a world champion, he shouldn’t be making maneuvers like that. It’s unacceptable. The biggest result from that today is he was uninjured. He’s had to go to hospital for precautionary checks after a 51g accident, so I hope Lewis is very happy with himself.”
During a select press conference to the media, of which Motorlat was in attendance, Merecedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team Principal Toto Wolff responded to Horner’s comments by stating:
“Everybody has an opinion and that’s OK. Of course, everybody, every team would have a certain bias towards incidents like that.”
During the press conference, the question was asked as to whether it was inevitable that contact would happen at some point? At this stage we can recall how just two months ago, McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown stated that Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton would be likely to collide at some point this year. The fire was then stoked somewhat when Hamilton responded to questions on this at the time by claiming that Verstappen has more to prove in their championship fight. Such a comment did not sit well with the Dutchman:
“No, I have nothing to prove,” Verstappen said back in May. “And avoiding contact, I think it goes both ways. So we have done well, that’s true. We race hard, we avoided the contact, both sides. So let’s hope we can keep doing that and keep being on track and race hard against each other…I honestly don’t know what to say any more about these things. We never try to crash, do we?
Following Sunday’s ‘incident’ and due to the fact no serious injury befell Max Verstappen, one cannot help but imagine Zak Brown felt a sense of ‘I told you so’ from his isolation due to testing positive for COVID-19.
On the issue of inevitability, after what was foretold came to pass in Hamilton’s attempt to make the pass - Toto Wolff was more pragmatic:
“It is a situation that we’ve all seen in the past when great drivers race with each other. When nobody’s prepared to give in, then these kinds of situations can happen. For me, it takes two to tango.”
Sunday’s incident, for many, has seen the intensity step up a gear but Wolff said that this has always been the case:
“This championship was always very intense and we are fighting with everything we have in order to hold on to this championship whilst knowing that we are not performing as Red Bull and Honda. We’ve had big points losses in the past and today we scored big points so that is always balancing itself out.”
Sunday’s first lap incident echoed the scenes witnessed in the peak of the Prost/Senna years and as such should the intensity between Hamilton and Verstappen be defused? The reply from Mercedes’ Team Boss followed: “Why, you would love that no? It’s a lot to write about. I’m ready, let’s go for this.”
Wolff’s response to the suggestion of defusing intensity reflected the battle cry heard over team radio as a victorious Hamilton crossed the line in Silverstone before his wild celebrations in front of a partisan crowd. In case anyone was in any doubt – Mercedes do not give up. Therefore, if Red Bull Racing wishes to prevent the Silver Arrows becoming 8th time consecutive F1 Constructors’ Champions, they know they have a real battle on their hands to do it.
Fortunately, the summer break is soon approaching. This is well timed in that hopefully, with some time away form the track, all parties can calm their emotions and regroup. However, first there is a whole Grand Prix weekend to get through, the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest, and as such every expectation of further controversy to follow.
Lewis Hamilton’s success this past Sunday at Silverstone resulted in a 99th victory for the seven-time Drivers’ Champion. However, one can imagine that Hamilton will face a resurgent Max Verstappen who will take a lot to beat if he is to claim his 100th victory in the Premier Class at Hungary.
The next round of this hotly contested F1 season is surely one not to be missed but in the meantime we can expect a fortnight of schoolyard antics and name calling before the real action happens back on track.
One thing’s for sure, if you are the organizer of the Pre-Race F1 Press Conferences you would be a brave person to sit Hamilton and Verstappen alongside one another. Meanwhile, on track, alongside one another seems to be exactly where these two great drivers will find one another and F1 is all the stronger because of it.