Has the Verstappen-Hamilton rivalry officially commenced?
Written by: Danny Jones. Edited by: Haneen Abbas
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s crash at the British Grand Prix seems to have turned an intense championship battle into a rivalry for the ages. What was a tense, yet friendly championship battle has imploded after the two drivers dramatically collided at Copse, with the war of words between Red Bull and Mercedes heating up a further few degrees?
A collision had seemed inevitable for a while, with the two previously going wheel-to-wheel at Bahrain, Imola, Portugal, Spain and France. Imola provided minor contact between the two after Verstappen aggressively muscled his way down the inside toward Tamburello, which minorly damaged the Mercedes’ front wing after Hamilton straddled over the kerbs. Just two rounds later, Verstappen bravely forced his way up the inside at the start, with Hamilton using all his experience to avoid contact with the Dutchman.
After a few dominant Verstappen performances, Hamilton’s return to his home race at Silverstone, he has welcomed a full capacity crowd all abiding on the Britons side. After an epic qualifying lap from Hamilton, the prospect of a thrilling weekend intensified, further so after Verstappen’s victory in sprint qualifying. Verstappen claimed the start, but Hamilton looked aggressive from the get-go at Silverstone, looking for a gap to overtake the weaving Verstappen down the Wellington Straight, before attempting a move around the outside into Brooklands, with the Dutchman clutching on to the lead. Contact had seemed probable during the previous eight corners, but when the two arrived at Copse, disaster struck for Red Bull.
Hamilton aggressively moved towards the old pit wall, in a space barely wide enough for him to fit in. As Verstappen flicked left to carry the racing line into the corner, Hamilton, stranded on the inside, understeered wide, resulting in 1eight0 mph contact, midway through the corner. Hamilton clipped Verstappen’s rear wheel, with the two3 year old, careering into the wall, experiencing a 51G impact, thankfully able to walk away, before being taken to hospital for precautionary checks. This was potentially the moment that caused things to turn sour between the two.
Fans and team principles were quick to pin the blame on one driver, causing an instant split between the F1 community. Hamilton had his view on the radio saying:
‘I was ahead going in there, man. Fully alongside, it was my line. He turned in on me, man’,
A few seconds later, Christian Horner, made his comment on team radio:
‘That corner, he was never anywhere near alongside.’ Every driver who has driven this circuit knows that you don’t stick a wheel up in the inside at Copse. That is an enormous accident. 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. You could have had a massive accident. Thank God he’s walked away unscathed. So, I hope you’re going to deal with it appropriately.’
Before saying to Channel 4: ‘It was dirty driving’, and then saying to Sky Sports: “I’m just very disappointed that a driver of his calibre should make a move like that. It’s dangerous, it looked desperate.” and “Wasn’t much of a penalty really was it?”
Helmut Marko then entered with his usual controversial view saying:
“You can’t do that with the normal sporting code. I don’t know what the maximum penalty would be, but such dangerous and reckless behaviour should be punished with a suspension or something.”
Hamilton would eventually receive a 10-second penalty but would recover to win the race, which ended in joyous celebrations in front of his own crowd, with the Brit sprinting across the circuit to greet the delighted British crowd. However, when questioned on the incident Hamilton claimed: ‘You know he’s [Verstappen] very aggressive. And then today, I mean I was fully alongside him, and he didn’t leave me space.’ Hamilton then claimed ‘he doesn’t need to apologise for the accident’
Several hours later, Verstappen responded angrily on social media. ‘Watching the celebrations while still in hospital is disrespectful and unsportsmanlike behaviour’, referring to Hamilton’s exuberant celebrations at the end of the race, and a small number of fans who cheered, whilst his Red Bull violently hit the wall.
Verstappen also wrote: ‘The penalty given does not help us and doesn’t do justice to the dangerous move Lewis made on track’
The implosion of the Verstappen-Hamilton battle has invoked memories of previous title resentment between Prost and Senna, and Hamilton’s previous fallout with Nico Rosberg. Senna and Prost’s rivalry is the most portrayed in F1, with their iconic collisions at Suzuka in 1nineeightnine and 1ninenine0 deciding World Championships, with the two publicly igniting their hate for each other. Hamilton’s previous title war with Rosberg was similar, with the two (who were previously best friends) developing an intense rivalry, which climaxed at their infamous crash at the two016 Spanish Grand Prix.
It had seemed only a disrespect with the team principles before, but Horner’s comments calling Hamilton an ‘amateur’ and referred to his attempted move as ‘dirty driving’, have started creating a more intense battle between the two camps, and with drivers and team personnel starting to have jabbed at each other, it is starting to brew into something F1 may not have seen before. Additionally caused by Hamilton’s refusal to apologise to Verstappen, or accept any of the blame.
Hamilton and Verstappen’s collision can instantly start to be compared to two of the best-documented F1 rivalries. With the two pointing the finger at each other, and the public outrage from both sides, it suggests that what was once a respectful title battle between the two, is developing into an F1 battle for the generation. Christian Horner and Toto Wolff are no strangers to arguments with each other, most recently on the Flexi-wing debate, but the Copse collision has just added more fuel to the fire, heating the war of words between the two sides further.
It is notable that the nature of the accident is what turned the tide. Firstly, the penalty itself, where Mercedes believe it was a racing incident, while Verstappen and Horner claim the penalty was pointless, as it changed nothing, particularly after Hamilton recovered for the win. Helmut Marko has suggested a race ban for Hamilton, and Red Bull are reportedly attempting to request further action on Hamilton. However, Mercedes believe Hamilton was entitled to the corner, while Red Bull believe that Verstappen was clearly in front. Red Bull is also unhappy with Hamilton’s prodigious celebrations after the race, particularly when it was unclear what health situation Verstappen was in, whilst Mercedes celebrate hugely on social media.
There are still questions to be asked at the end of the British GP weekend, particularly further views on the incident from Verstappen and Hamilton. Although it seems unlikely that Red Bull will be successful in taking further action against Hamilton, the severity of the impact on the title charge means that senior management may be inclined to escalate the matter.
Whatever unanswered questions remain from Silverstone, Red Bull’s title grasp has been severely flattened, and while a stellar driver from Hamilton won him the race, it will go down as one of the most controversial. The words said from Mercedes and Red Bull suggests that the rivalry has taken a turn, and can now be compared to the two rivalries previously mentioned. The aspect of two teams battling for the championship is mouth-watering, Verstappen’s comments on social media show that almost all respect has been thrown out the door. With 13 rounds still to go, the Hamilton win has certainly boosted Mercedes chances at the championship, but it is obvious that their crash at Silverstone today has developed into F1’s newest rivalry.