Race Review – Brace yourselves, things are going to get very spicy from this point on after British Grand Prix
It was a chaotic British Grand Prix that certainly had a couple of huge talking points. Pete Sharland tries to take stock of what happened on the track and what was said afterwards in the aftermath of the crash involving Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Elsewhere there’s praise for some other drivers on the grid, most noticeably a certain Canadian!
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 18: Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner looks on from the grid before the F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 18, 2021 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
How you wake up as a Formula 1 fan on Monday morning depends on what camp you fall into.
If you are a fan of Lewis Hamilton or Mercedes you are going to be waking up thrilled that the Brit took a win that cuts the deficit at the top of the championship standings to just eight points. You’ll be delighted that he was able to overcome a penalty and get past Charles Leclerc at the death.
If you are a fan of Max Verstappen or Red Bull you’re probably still seething, but hopefully a bit calmer than you were the day before, after the first lap crash that saw the Dutchman retire, and eventually go to hospital.
For the rest of you (and I’m extremely sorry to group everyone together) there’s probably a mish-mash of opinions depending on a whole range of factors. Ideally you’ve all taken a step back after some of the reaction that came following the incident between the two title rivals.
For what it’s worth this author, having had some time to reflect, has come to this conclusion after the intense emotions experienced watching it in real time and listening to the hysteria that followed.
This was more than merely a racing incident, but not by much. Importantly, both drivers are at fault to some degree. Hamilton is probably more at fault than Verstappen. The 10-second penalty was a bit of a joke and almost irrelevant. In this writer’s humble opinion, a 10 second stop and go seems like it would have been a far better way to go about things. The idea that Hamilton did this on purpose, thereby endangering not only Verstappen’s life but also his own, is downright ludicrous and charging rapidly towards bat-crap crazy territory.
But when you are judging these things and the punishments that should follow it’s really hard, like really, really hard.. These are the finest of fine margins. Over the past 24 hours we’ve heard former F1 drivers, former world champions no less, struggle to really come down one way or another. There’s a lot going on, it’s not as simple as some people want to make it out to be.
Are we guilty of overreacting because of the pictures we see during and after the crash? Perhaps. Can we also underreact at times because of past demeanours and, in this country at least, nationalistic pride or in others the vitriolic tribalism that exists across sport? Perhaps.
Are we watching Formula 1 become an even more sensationalised and dramatised sport? You betcha.
In the parlance of chilli peppers we started the season around a jalapeno or serrano. Then as the battle progressed we worked our way up to maybe a Scotch Bonnet, mostly thanks to the war of words between Christian Horner and Toto Wolff. Now though? Now we’re at a bloody Carolina Reaper baby!
In the immediate aftermath of the incident Red Bull boss Horner said “That was an enormous accident and it was 100% Max’s corner, so as far as I’m concerned, full blame lays on Hamilton, who should never have been in that position.”
Then after the race, which of course, Hamilton won, Horner went even harder.
"It shouldn't be like that to be honest with you. Max has incurred a 51G accident, Lewis Hamilton is a world champion and he shouldn't be making manoeuvres like that.
“It's unacceptable. He's put a driver... thank goodness the biggest result for us today is he was uninjured. He's having to go to hospital for precautionary checks after a 51G accident so I hope Lewis is very happy with himself.
"For me, that's a hollow victory.”
Hamilton and Mercedes chief Wolff were quick in biting back. Hamilton said that in the future Verstappen needs to be less aggressive, and that his rival being in hospital didn’t change how he felt about the race. Wolff said that it was absolutely Verstappen fault, something Hamilton echoed despite trying to defuse things on social media later.
Then the championship leader weighed in. Writing on Instagram Verstappen said “Watching the celebrations after the race while still in hospital is disrespectful and unsportsmanlike behaviour but we move on.”
A title fight that was getting juicy is now on the verge of becoming downright nasty. Whatever amicability existed between Hamilton and Verstappen before today that could balance out their sniping bosses is now gone, this is all-out war on both sides.
In the era of social media and, now within F1, the era of Netflix it’s hardly surprising that this has blown up the way it has. Some of the older fans will be lamenting this even being talked about this much but given the way Drive to Survive has brought a new generation of fans to the sport, and tried their best to inflame every innocuous situation this incident is a reminder of the era we live in. Sadly this is the way of all things now be that politics, sport or celebrity gossip. React first, ask questions later.
In some ways it is a good thing, the FIA have nowhere to hide and it’s telling that they reacted to this so quickly after the backlash they received in Baku. If the intense pressure that comes from these incidents can lead to better and more efficient officiating that can only be a net positive. The main priority has to be driver safety.
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 18: Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 18, 2021 in Northampton, England.
Image credit: Getty Images
Still, it doesn’t really matter which side of the incident or penalty you come down on, It’s undeniable that everyone involved could have been a little more thoughtful with the way they reacted. Horner didn’t need to be so incendiary (it seemed in the immediate aftermath that he was relatively calm but became more angry after the race) even though it was clearly an emotion day for him. And Hamilton and Wolff didn’t need to bite back, especially in such a classless manner, which obviously provoked a needled response from Verstappen.
Ultimately the most important thing is that Verstappen is okay. It is the worst thing about this sport by some distance and whenever something like that happens you can’t help but hold your breath, especially after the Jules Bianchi tragedy and what happened to Romain Grosjean. Hopefully he can continue to make a quick recovery and can be fine for Hungary before the break. It’s great he’s able to get onto his phone and send out a message that he’s feeling okay.
One final word on the title battle between the big two and it’s a word on a driver who is nowhere near it, Valtteri Bottas. Another race where the Finn had to let his team-mate through and it has to be so tough for him in what is going to be his last season in a car where he has a good car. Hopefully someone like Williams can put together a semi-competitive car and Bottas can go home and score some points at least. Maybe at a different team he can at least get a drink.
A word too on Leclerc. It was a brilliant drive from the Ferrari man in some very difficult circumstances and he did extremely well to get second. It was a great day for McLaren too with a 4-5 finish. With Daniel Ricciardo starting to get the hang of the car they are looking very dangerous and if the team can put an elite car in the hands of their drivers next year they could make some real noise. Lando Norris is now up to third in the championship standings, something even he can’t believe.
And finally let’s talk about Lance Stroll again. We’ve done this a lot in this column but most Sundays he’s putting in some serious pace. It can all look like a complete and utter shambles on Friday and Saturday and then before you know it he’s passing everyone on Sundays, it’s honestly amazing to watch. Once again he was one of the biggest movers and came up six places to get into the points. Just three races this season (not counting when his tyre blew up on him) that he’s failed to make it into the points. It’s going to be fascinating to see what happens if he gets a more competitive car next year. There is no longer any doubt about him being on the grid on merit.
In two weeks time we go to Hungary, hopefully with the championship leader in tow and, most importantly for the big bosses of the sport, plenty of eyeballs on the race. Press conferences, interviews, even conduct during practice and qualifying, you can be sure everyone will be desperately looking for the slightest bit of aggravation before the mid-season break. Let’s get ready to rumble.