The collision between championship contenders Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen at the British Grand Prix has dramatically raised the intensity in the rivalry between the pair.
Sadly, it has also brought out the worst in some Formula 1 followers. The racist comments targeted at Hamilton on social media are reprehensible, and have rightly been criticised by both teams, as well as several of their rivals.
We expect Formula 1 competitors to give no quarter both on the track and off it. That must never cross the line into racist abuse. Teams demonstrate their commitment to opposing racism before every grand prix. Those who claim to be their fans should follow their example or go find something else to occupy their time with.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was understandably livid following the crash. He tore into Hamilton on television and to the press.
Some have accused Horner of indirectly stoking racism with his words. This is wrong. Being a victim of racism does not exempt anyone from legitimate criticism. And let’s be very clear: It is just as wrong to accuse Mercedes of ‘playing the race card’ by objecting to the abuse Hamilton received.
Drawing a line under the most unsavoury aspect of Sunday’s collision, the pressing issue at hand is whether Red Bull are satisfied with the FIA’s reaction to it. Despite serving a 10-second penalty for the incident, Hamilton went on to win Sunday’s race. “Receiving a menial penalty [and] still winning the grand prix doesn’t feel like much of a penalty,” fumed Horner.
(Ironically, Hamilton said much the same three years earlier after his team mate Valtteri Bottas was knocked out of contention at the start of the French Grand Prix by Sebastian Vettel: “When someone destroys your race through an error and it’s kind of a tap on the hand really – they’re allowed to come back and still finish ahead of that person he took out – it doesn’t weigh up.”)
In the language of the stewards, if a collision is considered entirely the fault of one driver, they are described as being “wholly” responsible. In this case, the stewards deemed Hamilton “predominantly” to blame for Sunday’s crash. This explains why he didn’t receive a more severe sanction, such as a drive-through or 10-second stop-and-go penalty, either of which would surely have prevented him from winning.
But in Horner’s view, Hamilton was completely to blame for the collision. He saw it as a culmination of several risky moves by the Mercedes driver, who went on the attack after making a slightly better getaway from second on the grid from pole-winner Verstappen.
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“It just felt like a desperate move for Lewis,” said Horner. “You’ve lost the start. You’ve had a go down the Wellington Straight. He started wheel-banging with Max down there.
“Then to stick a wheel up the inside of Copse corner, one of the fastest corners in this world championship, a corner that’s pretty much flat out and 180 miles an hour – there’s only ever going to be one consequence from that.”
You wouldn’t expect Horner to be anything other than entirely critical of Hamilton. But each of these three points are arguably tendentious.
In their close-quarters tussle on the Wellington Straight, Verstappen moved to the left on the straight then steered back towards his rival. He is allowed to do this, but it clearly wasn’t Hamilton who was responsible for the diminishing gap between the cars.
Accusing Hamilton of “sticking a wheel up the inside of Copse corner” overlooks the fact the Mercedes was well alongside the Red Bull as they approached the corner. Far enough alongside to have earned the right to contest the corner.
“Lewis had more than half a car alongside the Max,” observed Fernando Alonso. “So in a way, Lewis could not disappear from that inside line. It’s not that you can vanish.”
But Horner wasn’t having any of this when it was put to him. “He didn’t, he ran wide into Max. I think if you look at the overhead [view] he’s run wide into the corner, he’s carried too much speed.”
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Hamilton’s failure to get closer to the apex of the corner was cited by the stewards as part of the reason why he was considered “predominantly” responsible for the collision. “Car 44 [Hamilton] was on a line that did not reach the apex of the corner, with room available to the inside,” they noted.
But this does not change the fact Hamilton was far enough alongside Verstappen to have earned the right to stay there as they turned in. “Cars 33 [Verstappen] and 44 entered turn nine with car 33 in the lead and car 44 slightly behind and on the inside” noted the stewards. This does not bear out Horner’s claim Hamilton “stuck a wheel up the inside”.
Horner’s insistence “there’s only ever going to be one consequence” from Hamilton’s move at Copse also doesn’t square with his successful pass on Charles Leclerc at the same corner later in the race.
FIA F1 race director Michael Masi underlined the view that the stewards’ objection was not whether Hamilton should have made the move in the first place, but that he didn’t execute it well enough. I.e., he was far enough alongside to attempt the pass, but by running wider than he should have done he caused an avoidable accident.
“The big part was similar to what happened with Charles later on,” said Masi in response to a question from RaceFans. “He could have stayed tucked in closer to the apex, and that was where they found that – I think the wording was quite clear as per the regulations – that he was ‘predominantly to blame’.
“He wasn’t seen as wholly to blame for it but seen as predominantly to blame. He could have tucked in further and that may have changed the outcome, but we don’t know, we judge it on the incident itself.”
Horner’s eye-popping fury at Hamilton’s actions are easy to understand. The crash could easily cost the team a seven-figure sum at a time when its expenditure is tightly limited by the budget cap.
What’s more, while Hamilton doesn’t exactly have a lengthy rap sheet, his recent incidents have largely involved Horner’s cars. He tipped Alexander Albon into spins at Brazil in 2019 and Austria in 2020 and on both occasions scored points after knocking a Red Bull off.
Red Bull are known to have engaged a lawyer to examine the incident and consider whether they have grounds to ask the FIA to review it. In order to proceed with that, they must find compelling new evidence. There are reports of telemetry data from Hamilton’s car allegedly indicating he carried excessive speed into the corner, though that will be a tricky case to argue, as he was heading into the bend off-line with a maximum fuel load.
Horner’s verdict on a similar incident involving one of his own drivers at the same track last year may also come back to haunt him. Albon knocked Kevin Magnussen out of last year British Grand Prix at Club.
“For me that was a racing incident,” said Horner. “If you look at it from the beginning, Kevin made a mistake, he got out wide, Alex put his nose in there and then he sort of backed out of it a little bit. It was one of those things.”
The stewards made it clear they didn’t consider Hamilton entirely at fault for Sunday’s collision. But Red Bull obviously think otherwise, and may seek to prove it.
Will they? That’s a question of whether they believe their own rhetoric, and have the evidence to back it up.
Note the main image is from Farm, not Copse, and does not show the moment before impact
Quotes: Dieter Rencken
2021 F1 season
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