BEHIND THE HEADLINES – British – The clash of title rivals

Behind The Headlines Features

Sunday’s British Grand Prix answered one of the biggest and the ‘not if but when’ question in the championship battle between Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen as they fought for the lead of the race. You have had all season the lingering question about when this accident would happen, and now it has how does this change the championship?

Until now the title fight had been largely respectful with hard-fought racing, and mutual respect has been one of the themes of the first half of the season. The question now is having that accident seen that respect gone? As well as a shift in the mind games between the two drivers and the teams.

Although we saw an incident at Imola and in Barcelona, this one feels different, as we have not had an incident where one of them has been forced to retire. It was clear that two of the hardest racers were never going to ease off and that battle was building throughout the season.

Going into the weekend, Hamilton said he was looking at the big picture but there is always the risk that this would happen as we have seen the title rivals go wheel to wheel. They both have this reparation for being hard racers something we know Hamilton has already backed out of moves because he though they were too risky earlier this season.

Hamilton, we now know was also lucky not have been forced to retire from the race, Andrew Shovlin revealed that in the collision the seven-time champion suffered a wheel rim failure and without being able to change tyres under the red flag it’s likely that Hamilton would have retired from the race.

But the ninety-ninth win of his career will be one which is remembered both for the collision with Verstappen and how he managed to come back to take the win, equalling his and Michael Schumacher’s record of eight wins at the same race. Although, he can surpass that record if he wins the next race in Budapest.

What happened

Watching the replay, it looks a light touch early on as Hamilton attempted a move down the inside at Copse but his front tyre hit the rear of Verstappen sending the Red Bull into a spin. This then locked up Verstappen’s tyres sending him at speed into the barrier with a broken suspension on the rear.

They were both naturally turning into the corner as they would naturally do, but the question will be whether Verstappen and Hamilton should have given him more space to each other, after nearly touching on entry to Brooklands. But it was clear in those opening few corners that this could have been another epic fight between Verstappen and Hamilton.

I think that it was always going to happen, and we have seen Red Bull get really fired up by this as they believe that the penalty given to Hamilton wasn’t enough. Helmut Marko believes Hamilton should be given a one-race ban, while Masi argued that no penalty was enough to address an imbalance as we saw in the race.

This has to be discussed but race director Michael Masi made an important point on Tuesday that a fundamental principle that stewards do not take the consequences of an incident into account when awarding penalties, It would be bad I think a bad direction if the sport goes down this route.

Masi explained this quite well saying when stewards “judge an incident they judge the incident itself, and the merits of the incident, not what happens afterwards as a consequence. And that’s been something that the stewards have done for many years.”

We need to think about this in the bigger picture, does the on-track collision between Hamilton and Verstappen change the dynamic of the way this championship plays out. If they are placed in the same position again. Red Bull’s Christian Horner fumed over the penalty handed out by the stewards, calling it “menial” after Hamilton was able to recover and win the race to cut Verstappen’s championship lead.

The argument that Mercedes are putting forward as explained by trackside engineering director Shovlin the aggression shown by Verstappen had previously forced Hamilton to back out of battles, meaning an incident such as this was inevitable.

This in my view, I can see both sides of the debate, Hamilton was punished but he overcame that still to take the victory. Verstappen has the right to be upset and feel that Hamilton got away lightly, but you cannot give another penalty if one has already been given.

In the sprint race, we saw Hamilton back out of a similar move on Verstappen, which may have played a role as we saw Hamilton back out of a move when the Red Bull overtook. Could this mean then that the sprint race could be used by drivers to get better starts for the main race? Learn how drivers around them behave.

Hamilton, we know went onto win, but the Verstappen called Hamilton “disrespectful” for celebrating while his rival was in the hospital. Hamilton, while expressing his concern for Verstappen, said he had nothing to apologise for and heavily implied that the Dutchman needs to learn not to be so aggressive.

This incident will be compared to the Hamilton/Rosberg, Schumacher/Hill, Prost/Senna rivalries and so then it’s a reminder that these high stake games can go wrong. This is one of the things we enjoy about F1, these intense battles between two drivers, a young pretender trying to usurp the established number one, takes them into the stratosphere.

Leclerc surprise

The focus has been on that accident between Hamilton and Verstappen, which allowed Charles Leclerc into the lead of the race. I think we are starting to see signs of a recovery from Ferrari and. Leclerc, who went onto lead much of that race before the Mercedes passed him with two laps to go.

His getaway from the pole spot and subsequent managing of the gap to Hamilton was incredibly well-judged and, despite facing engine cut-out issues while in the lead, means that Ferrari are going in the right direction following their difficult 2020.

Speaking about the accident, The Ferrari driver said, “It is a racing incident. It is quite difficult to put the blame on one or the other. There was space on the inside. Maybe Lewis was not completely at the apex but it is also true Max was quite aggressive on the outside. Things happen.”

Ultimately, the pace of the Mercedes was too great, and Hamilton pulled off a similar move on the Ferrari for the win. I think that proves that the accident with Verstappen was an accident rather than a deliberate move. Remember, these are my own views and analysis, I’m trying to present both sides of the argument, we know that the stewards put the ones who make the decisions.

Sprint qualifying

Before the accident, this piece I intended to focus on the impact and assessing the impact of the sprint qualifying, this feels now not the biggest story following the race. But let’s start with ‘traditional qualifying,’ one of the stands out performers in the session was George Russell who got his Williams through to Q3 for the first race.

Though in the sprint qualifying the Englishman went well, as has been the case in many races at high speed and downforce circuits the threat from Russell faded and he dropped out of the points.

However, sprint qualifying is one where I think we need to give it time maybe 2021 wasn’t the best season to try this? These cars as we saw during the main Grand Prix, are difficult to follow once cars get into the dirty air, next years regulations mean in theory a lot of that should be better.

Fernando Alonso performance after the two-time world champion stormed from 11th to fifth on the opening lap, has to be the biggest highlight in that sprint. I think it proves that despite turning forty in the next few weeks that he is still is driving at his best.

However, don’t judge after one weekend, maybe wait until after Monza and there are suggestions of tweaks, but Ross Brawn added, “We’ll let the dust settle on the weekend, spend some time with the FIA and the teams, try and understand if there’s some evolutions we want but we won’t be changing the fundamental format this year.”

Hopefully, after Monza, I may do a feature on this.

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