Four talking points from a dramatic British GP

19th July 2021
Damien Smith

So it’s happened. The tense duel between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen erupted into open hostility on Sunday at Silverstone as a first-lap collision that left the world championship leader in hospital took Formula 1 into potentially troublesome territory. Up to now, there’s been wary respect between the two best performers in modern grand prix racing – but the heat in their personal fight has now sky-rocketed to a level only matched by the 52-degree track temperatures at a scorching British GP.


Verstappen brands Hamilton “disrespectful” and “unsportsmanlike”

They’d raced hard but just the right side of fair, as they have all year, but Hamilton and Verstappen tipped over the edge on that fraught opening lap at Copse Corner. What an exchange it had been between the pair as Verstappen only just converted his pole position into a lead in the opening seconds, then held off a concerted attack from Hamilton down the Wellington straight and into Brooklands as the Mercedes man gave it everything to hit the front. His race strategy counted on him doing so – it was all on the line.

Out of Luffield, Hamilton had the momentum and that sucked him into a move he couldn’t resist into one of the world’s great fast corners. Had the roles been reversed you can guarantee Max would have gone for it too, whatever a furious Christian Horner might claim about such moves being off-limits at Copse. Hamilton’s black car wasn’t as tight to the kerb as it could have been, but then Verstappen pinched his rival on turn-in too. In essence, here were two magnificent racing drivers in the fight of their lives and neither was ever going to back down. Thus Hamilton’s left front connected with Verstappen’s right rear.

Red Bull claimed the violent impact was 51G and it was with huge relief that a shaken Verstappen was seen walking into an ambulance. Yes, it could have been much worse. But was this really an example of “dirty driving” as Horner claimed? Should he really be facing a race ban as the always volatile Helmut Marko judged? Wasn’t this simply a racing accident between two hard-heads – or was Hamilton’s subsequent 10-second penalty a balanced punishment for a crash Lewis could have avoided by backing out? You’ll have your own view. For what it’s worth, we reckon the stewards – which included five-time Le Mans winner and Goodwood Revival favourite Emanuele Pirro – probably called it right.

What happens next and over the course of the rest of this season is entirely down to the drivers and teams either raising hostilities to all-out war – or choosing to take the heat out of the situation for the safety of everyone. Verstappen claimed on social media on Sunday night that Hamilton’s victory celebrations were “disrespectful” and “unsportsmanlike”. It’s not an exaggeration to say this battle is delicately and even dangerously poised.


Brilliant Leclerc’s heartache

Charles Leclerc had the best seat in the house to watch the fight unfold, then picked up the lead from the restart after the red flag interruption. He held it valiantly for so long, his Ferrari proving just out of Hamilton’s reach during a fantastic first stint, and kept the advantage all the way to lap 50 of 52. But as we’ve seen on so many occasions, Hamilton is relentless when the chase is on and pulled off the decisive pass – at Copse Corner.

Sucked into a move once again by greater momentum out of Luffield, lightning didn’t strike twice because this time Hamilton noticeably backed out – but Leclerc ran wide and twitched over the kerb anyway, giving up the place. Copse is and always had been a ballsy corner, and yet overtaking is far from unknown here. But for a move to come off it does tend to require the person ahead to either back out or make a mistake – as with poor Leclerc. To his credit, Verstappen did neither – and then paid a heavy price. As for the Ferrari driver, he took the close defeat in good spirit, rightly pleased with his performance while admitting he couldn’t help being disappointed. Leclerc is just as driven and ambitious as Hamilton and Verstappen, but appears right now to lack the same edge of aggression. Perhaps that’s no bad thing – at least until he’s in a world title battle of his own.


Hamilton celebrates a magical eight

In front of 140,000 euphoric and partisan fans, on the last day (we think) of a traumatic national lockdown, no wonder Hamilton was carried away by the moment when he scored that record-extending eighth home win in such dramatic circumstances. Was it really disrespectful to his rival, especially when he claimed to be unaware Verstappen was in hospital? Like the move itself, we can’t help wondering what might have occurred if the roles were reversed. Imagine Hamilton coming off worst in a collision at Zandvoort, with his rival going on to win in front of his adoring orange army. Would Max really rein it in, especially if he knew Lewis’s life wasn’t in danger? Almost certainly not, especially now!


Sprint race proves a hit

F1 walked on egg shells to avoid any apparent dilution of the grand prix itself by carefully referring to the historic event on Saturday as the F1 Sprint – but as any self-respecting motor sport fan knows, that describes a one-at-a-time blast over a given section of track or a complete lap against the clock. This wasn’t a sprint – it was a short race. It was also an experiment that by and large gained a big thumbs up from the majority.

The 17-lap dash completely undermined Hamilton’s superb ‘pole’ in the Friday three-part session that’s usually known as qualifying, because he lost out at the start and Verstappen’s victory (yes, that’s exactly what it was) was thereafter never in doubt. But despite pre-race fears to the contrary there was plenty of action down the field, which for some drivers made and broke their weekends. Alonso’s stunning opening lap, which carried him from 11th to fifth, was the highlight – even if he slipped to seventh behind the McLarens at the finish. Sergio Perez losing control out of Chapel and slithering through a gravel trap was very much the opposite end of the spectrum. The Mexican started the grand prix proper from the pitlane and two-stopped his way to an unhappy 16th place, a trip-up with           Kimi Räikkönen at Vale capping a miserable British GP.

The sprint race was created to shake things up and largely that’s what it achieved. Twice more this year it is expected to be used again, but should it become a permanent fixture? We’d suggest the jury should remain out on that one, and take plenty of time before deciding its verdict. Traditions shouldn’t be sacrosanct in F1 – but changing qualifying for good in favour of a sprint race, no matter how crowd-pleasing, is a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Formula 1

  • Silverstone

  • Lewis Hamilton

  • Charles Leclerc

  • Max Verstappen

  • F1 2021

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