Hamilton versus Verstappen reaches fever pitch at sweltering Silverstone
- Hamilton and Verstappen collide at high speed while battling for race lead on opening lap
- Verstappen hospitalised as Hamilton recovers from a 10 second penalty to claim victory
- Eighth British Grand Prix success for Hamilton puts him only eight points behind Verstappen
The race to become F1 world champion stepped up several notches at a baking hot Silverstone on Sunday (18 July), as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen twice went wheel-to-wheel before a scary accident which left Verstappen temporarily in hospital.
Until now, the racing between the two this season has been hard but fair, but this was the first time the pair had come to blows on the race track.
The drama started on Friday, as F1 experimented with the race weekend format in a bid to spice up the racing action. The usual qualifying session, traditionally held on Saturday, was brought forward to Friday evening, and set the grid for a new ‘Sprint’ qualifying contest which took its place the following afternoon.
Hamilton claimed a glorious ‘pole’ in the Friday qualifying, which gave him the advantage over Verstappen who was second fastest. But at the start of the 17 lap Sprint, Verstappen pulled ahead and despite some close moments, fought off Hamilton on the opening lap and then led every lap of the less than half hour affair, claiming the actual pole for the main Grand Prix on Sunday. Verstappen also claimed three championship points, with Hamilton taking two from the ‘race,’ which officially wasn’t a race.
The importance of that first lap was not lost on Hamilton, and when it came to the main event on Sunday, the roles were reversed. This time it was the British driver from second place who made the better start, and drew level into the fast Abbey right hander at the start of the lap. Verstappen ran slightly wide and just about retained the advantage, while Hamilton closed right up in the tight complex of corners which immediately followed.
In prime position down the long Wellington straight, Hamilton used the slipstream to again draw level and then slightly ahead as they approached the Brooklands left hander. At speeds of over 180mph, the pair even locked wheels as they approached the bend, with Verstappen again taking the inside line and holding his position.
Hamilton then positioned his car excellently at the exit of the next corner, the tight Luffield right hander, and got a great drive off the hairpin and down the old start/finish straight. Jinking out of the slipstream, Hamilton again got alongside the Red Bull driver on the approach to Copse, a flat out right hander that is one of the fastest corners on the entire F1 calendar.
Taking the inside line, the Mercedes driver was squeezed by Verstappen, and the pair made almost inevitable contact at upwards of 190mph. The lightest of touches was enough to send Verstappen sideways across the tarmac run-off area, his rear tyre coming away from the rim, his car jumping over the gravel and slamming into the tyre barriers at sickening speed.
Hamilton was able to continue though the safety car was immediately deployed while a winded Verstappen gingerly stepped from his car into a waiting ambulance. A quick look over in the circuit medical centre resulted in the Dutchman taking a precautionary trip to a local hospital for further checks.
With heavy damage to the tyre barriers, the race was red flagged a lap later, which was a blessing for Hamilton, who had sustained what would have been race-ending damage.
With the lengthy break in proceedings while the track infrastructure was checked and repaired, the inquest immediately began as both Red Bull and Mercedes spoke with Race Control in an effort to either get Hamilton punished, or stop the punishment depending on which side of the argument each team was on.
The race eventually resumed with Hamilton in second behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc who had assumed the lead after the first lap dramatics.
And it was Leclerc who was to lead the majority of the race, and even pulled away in the first stages of the restarted contest, despite having a slower car than Hamilton.
The race stewards ultimately decided Hamilton was at fault for the incident with his title rival, and handed the seven time champion a 10 second penalty to be served at his pit stop, adding considerable time to what would normally be a two and a half second stop.
That dropped Hamilton to fourth in the race, but he found his way past fellow Brit Lando Norris, then was allowed past by teammate Valtteri Bottas and set after Leclerc.
The race winning move came just two laps from the end, ironically in a near mirror image of his attempted move on Verstappen, and at the very same corner.
That sent the 140,000 capacity crowd into raptures, with Hamilton celebrating his eighth victory at the British Grand Prix, and drew within eight points of the Red Bull driver.
But the big talking point was the first lap drama, and Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner didn’t hold back with his criticism of Hamilton’s move.
“This is an incredibly difficult way to end the British Grand Prix weekend and it goes without saying that we are all just thankful Max was able to walk away from the car, despite later being taken to hospital for precautionary checks,” he commented afterwards.
“I have reviewed the footage many times and still cannot help but feel that putting a wheel up the inside at Copse, one of the fastest corners in this World Championship, was ill-judged and a huge risk by Lewis to both drivers. He was not significantly alongside Max as you can see from the point of contact, Lewis’ front left to Max’s right rear. The move was never on and resulted in a 51G impact for Max.”
Naturally, Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff saw it the other way. “We have seen a dramatic and exciting race today with Lewis winning the British Grand Prix again and catching Charles at the end - I think that was something for everybody. As for the incident between Lewis and Max, it always takes two to Tango and these two competitors were not giving each other an inch. It’s a high speed corner and that’s why these things are nasty to look at, but there is a clear regulation that is black and white on paper – if the front axle is over the middle of the car on the outside, it is your corner.
“This is a championship where the greatest driver of all time, a seven-time world champion is fighting with a tool that is maybe not as good as the other car, driven by an up and coming star who is trying to make his mark. And they collided and crashed. We have seen that in days before and with all the great rivalries in history, and this is what happened today. The most important thing is that Max is fine, and the rest of the race was great.”
Hamilton himself added: “I have been giving my all the past week, working in the factory, just giving it everything to uncover performance in this car with the guys and I am so proud of everyone for continuing to work, even though we had to recover a deficit. Today, as always, I tried to be measured in how I approached the race, particularly battling with Max – he’s very aggressive but I was fully alongside him and he didn’t leave me any space.
“Regardless of whether I agreed with the penalty, I took it on the chin and I just kept working. I was just like, “I’m not going to let anything get in the way of the crowd’s enjoyment of the weekend, the national anthem and the British flag”. I couldn’t have done it without the great teamwork from Valtteri and the amazing effort from the team so I’m very grateful and just so happy to deliver this result for the team and the fans.”
The paddock now has two weeks to catch their breath, with the next race in Hungary on 1 August featuring the more conventional event format.
Richard Randle is a motorsport PR professional working with the UK’s top racing circuits and the UK’s premier single-seater category, the BRDC British F3 Championship.