Max Verstappen's crash at Silverstone after a hit by Lewis Hamilton in the lightning-fast Copse Corner has resulted in massive controversy.
Not least because Hamilton won the race, celebrated this extensively and Verstappen and Red Bull saw their lead in the World Championships dwindle sharply.
The incident between the two drivers is not entirely out of the blue, as title pressure has increased over the season. Hamilton was under pressure and faced a 33 point deficit after being beaten in front of his fans at home on Saturday by Verstappen.
Aiming for sporting revenge on Sunday, Hamilton was determined, but the battle ended in tears.
The 2021 title fight between Verstappen and Hamilton so far
In the 2021 season, things have often got tough between the two drivers. Already in the first race, the drivers battled for victory, with Verstappen trying to overtake Hamilton from the outside in the final phase. Initially successful in getting past the Mercedes, he had to return the position due to exceeding the track limits.
At Imola, the first light touch followed when Verstappen took the lead after a good start. In the chicane, Hamilton took an aggressive line around the outside and the pair made contact, causing some minor damage to the front wing of the Mercedes. Also in Barcelona, Verstappen took the lead with a good start and claimed the first corner, with Hamilton also having to yield to the Red Bull in order to ensure there was no contact.
Verstappen and Hamilton both said they were enjoying the battle. RacingNews365 asked Verstappen in an exclusive interview earlier this season about this battle and whether he expected an eventual clash with Hamilton: "Hopefully not. I think we both have a lot of respect for each other and that we will race hard against each other. But that is I also think it's normal."
Hamilton also believed that there was respect and crashing with each other seemed out of the question. Until Silverstone, where Hamilton and Verstappen raced aggressively, and the contact between the two finally resulted in a bad outcome.
With Hamilton tapping the right rear of Verstappen's Red Bull as the Dutch driver swooped across, Verstappen ended up in the tyre barrier at high speed.
It was a mega hit, the heaviest of his career. The penalty that followed for Lewis was one that didn't hinder him too much as he still won the race. He celebrated with exuberance, a massive result in front of his home crowd, but perhaps a little insensitive given how it was achieved.
An unrepentant Hamilton had no intention of apologising for his part in the clash, pointing the finger at Verstappen's aggression for their collision, and saying that he wished to rebuild respect and clean racing between the two drivers. This was despite the stewards saying that he was the one predominantly to blame for the clash.
Incidents between Hamilton and Red Bull
However, Silverstone was not the first real clash between Hamilton and a Red Bull driver. For that, we have to go back to the Brazilian Grand Prix of Brazil in 2019. The two Ferrari drivers crashed together, bringing out the Safety Car for the final stages and bunching up the pack.
Verstappen took the lead and behind him is teammate Alexander Albon. The British-Thai driver defended his position against Hamilton through the second sector, but the Mercedes driver attempted a dive up the inside into a slow right hander. Albon spun, falling from second to 14th and distraught as his first F1 podium went begging.
Race Control penalised Hamilton with a five second penalty and two points on his licence, falling from third to seventh in the race classification.
In Austria 2020, Albon looked set to be able to take his first Grand Prix victory. Red Bull changed Albon's tyres in the final phase during the safety car period and, on his soft tyres, he was much faster than the Mercedes on (long) used hard tyres.
Albon took his chance on the outside into Turn 4 and appeared to be in control until Hamilton slapped him on the right rear wheel. Albon finished in the gravel and fell back to the back yet again.
Hamilton was, again, given a time penalty of five seconds and two penalty points on his license. This time penalty meant that he was not classified second, but fourth.
Crash number three is the much-discussed Silverstone crash between Verstappen and Hamilton, and one of the hardest crashes seen in the hybrid era of Formula 1.
Due to the red flag situation, Hamilton was able to continue on his way, because the team was able to repair his damaged front wing and wheel rim. The race management now penalised the home driver with a time penalty of 10 seconds and, again, two penalty points.
Because the incident took place on the first lap, Hamilton was able to collect his time penalty at his pit stop halfway through the race. As a result, the damage in positions on the track was small and he eventually won the race.
Hamilton and Verstappen's penalty points in 2019-2021
While the image of 23 year old Verstappen remains that of an aggressive hot-head, the numbers suggest otherwise. Since 2019, he has only been penalised twice by the race management. Once was in qualifying for the 2019 Mexican GP, in which he ignored the yellow flags. A stupid mistake, he admitted afterwards.
The second penalty he received was for an unsafe pit lane release during the Monaco GP. In doing so, he touched Valtteri Bottas. A penalty that is actually more attributable to the team than to the driver, who only accelerated when the team sent him away.
Hamilton in turn was identified three times by race management as the cause of a crash and/or racing incident involving a Red Bull driver. The wry thing for Red Bull is that this team was always empty-handed due to the actions of Hamilton, who in turn always won points.
Hamilton and Verstappen's penalty points
|Monaco 2019||Unsafe release||2 points|
|Mexico 2019||Ignored yellow flags in qualifying||2 points|
|Austria 2019||Blocked Raikkonen in qualifying||1 point|
|Germany 2019||Crossing white line on pit lane entry||1 point|
|Brazil 2019||Collision with Albon||2 points|
|Austria 2020||Ignored yellow flags in qualifying||2 points|
|Austria 2020||Collision with Albon||2 points|
|Italy 2020||Entered pit lane while it was closed||2 points|
|Britain 2021||Collision with Verstappen||2 points|
Is Verstappen's image justified?
In the past, Verstappen has often been portrayed as the 'bad boy' of Formula 1. Sure, he sometimes pushed the boundaries and pushed the limits with defenses on the limit and aggressive overtakes. However, it is wrong to say that the Dutchman was always the catalyst of accidents in the early years of his F1 career.
The experienced Hamilton and Rosberg, for example, were engaged in a very fierce battle at Mercedes that ended in tears during several races. Just think of the Spanish GP 2016, but also incidents during the Belgian GP in 2014 and the Austrian GP in 2016. Was it not team boss Toto Wolff who explicitly called for his drivers to stop fighting due to their on track clashes?
Since Rosberg's retirement, Hamilton has had his own empire at Mercedes and has hardly had any competition in recent years. But a Hamilton who is under pressure, as the above shows, shows signs of being unable to keep it completely clean, similarly to his dreadful 2011 season where he and Ferrari's Felipe Massa kept colliding.
Verstappen may have already lost 50 points this season through incidents: 25 due to the blowout in Baku and 25 due to the Hamilton clash at Silverstone. This year, the Mercedes driver alternates strong races with lesser performances, but luck is on his side. He went off the track in Imola, was in a hopeless position for a top score but the red flag helped him back into the race. In Monaco, Hamilton did not get further than seventh position after a poor weekend and, in Baku, he made a big mistake on the restart, which prevented him from scoring any points.
The win at Silverstone will feel good for Hamilton as he caught up by 25 points on Verstappen and won another race for the first time since May. However, the question seems to be whether the luck remains with him, or whether Verstappen will take sporting revenge in Hungary.