Hamilton keeps his head
This one might have been far slower than the collision at Silverstone on the first lap of the British GP, but Lewis Hamilton was all too aware of his fortunate deliverance after Max Verstappen’s right-rear Pirelli landed on top of his crash helmet as the world title rivals crashed out together for a second time this season. No wonder the seven-time champion, who was left with a sore neck, paid humble tribute to the ‘halo’ safety bars that offered life-saving protection over the top of his Mercedes cockpit.
The incident occurred on lap 26 after the pitstops. Verstappen had lost the lead from his pole position at the start to Ricciardo and now faced an uphill challenge after a dreadfully slow stop from his usually electric Red Bull crew. But Hamilton too had been delayed at his stop and returned to the track just in front of Verstappen, the Dutchman primed and ready to strike at Rettifilo, the tight first chicane that so often induces contact. Hamilton just about left enough room for Verstappen under braking for the right hander, Max moving up on the inside of the Merc’s flank for the following left hander. The cars touched and the rear of the Red Bull was flicked up and over the black Mercedes, ripping off the top of the roll hoop and the right rear tyre momentarily landing on Hamilton’s head before the blue car slid down and dug into the gravel. The nose of the Mercedes was trapped underneath it and both were all too clearly out of the race, Verstappen stalking off without checking if Hamilton was OK. The pair separately and dejectedly took the long walk back to the pits.
Inevitably, recriminations followed, Verstappen claiming his rival had left him no room, Hamilton reckoning Max should have backed out of it – although mostly he was just thankful to have kept his head. The verdict from most was ‘racing incident’, that they’d both contributed to the collision. But the stewards took another view, explaining how Verstappen was “predominantly” to blame because he’d never been fully alongside. The world championship leader will be docked three places on the Russian GP grid next time out in Sochi and was handed two penalty points.
Fair or an outrageous miscarriage of justice? Last time Hamilton was penalised, but at least could race on to win at Silverstone. Verstappen didn’t have that option on Sunday – although Merc boss Toto Wolff mischievously labelled it a “tactical foul”, which seemed a low blow. Meanwhile his counterpart at Red Bull, Christian Horner, for once steered clear of anything incendiary and simply labelled the decision “disappointing”. You’ll have your own view. Whatever, Verstappen left Monza with his world championship lead intact and extended to five points following his second place in the sprint race on Saturday.