Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix on Sunday, passing Charles Leclerc three laps from the checkered flag to take the lead and the win. But there was more than a hint of controversy to this one, after a Hamilton made contact with championship-points leader Max Verstappen on the opening lap and sent him crashing out of the race.
You can watch video of that incident here, if you haven’t seen it a million times already. Hamilton’s front-left tire made contact with Verstappen’s right-rear tire, sending Verstappen spinning into the tire wall on one of the highest-speed corners at Silverstone. Verstappen was sent to the hospital for a check but was determined to be fine.
In real time, Formula 1 commentators David Croft and Martin Brundle mostly determined that the incident was just that, a normal racing incident that perhaps couldn’t have been avoided. Race stewards took a different view, giving Hamilton a 10-second penalty for causing the collision, which didn’t stop him from winning the race.
The crash also had massive title ramifications, with Hamilton getting 25 points for the win and Verstappen getting zero for the DNF, meaning Hamilton is now just eight points behind Verstappen for the championship. Christian Horner, team principal for Red Bull, was predictably pissed off about it.
“I have reviewed the footage many times and still cannot help but feel that putting a wheel up the inside at Copse, one of the fastest corners in this World Championship, was ill-judged and a huge risk by Lewis to both drivers.
“He was not significantly alongside Max as you can see from the point of contact, Lewis’ front left to Max’s right rear. The move was never on and resulted in a 51G impact for Max.”
Horner also called it a “hollow victory” for Hamilton, though Leclerc, a more neutral party, had this to say:
“Obviously there was a space on the inside, maybe Lewis was not completely at the apex, but it’s also true that Max was quite aggressive on the outside. So things happen, but I think what is the most important today is that Max is unharmed and is fine.”
“We’d failed the rim where we’d had the contact on the front-left,” said the team’s trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin, “so that would have been a DNF had it not been red-flagged.
“The rest of the damage was actually remarkably little,” he added. “It was a tyre temperature sensor that had got knocked loose, so it was waggling around, but amazingly, it’s the least important part on the front wing – and it was the only one that broke.”
I can’t tell if Mercedes is saying this to further rub salt in Red Bull’s wound or perhaps they are just trying to make the point that they didn’t emerge unscathed either. And while F1 Race Director Michael Masi said on Monday that the outcome was not considered when it came to deciding Hamilton’s penalty — Masi said that that has been the guidance for years — the damage done to Verstappen’s championship hopes by the incident seems huge, even if you believe the Dutchman was at least partially to blame.
We may also, at the end of the season, look back on the crash as a blip if Verstappen goes on to win the championship. If Hamilton goes on to win the championship, especially by 25 points or fewer, Red Bull will remember this as something more than a blip. Regardless of how things played out, the season has now been imbued with a little more Drama, a little more Tension.
Probably the fairest outcome would’ve been for Hamilton to DNF, too, if that was, as Mercedes says, a possibility. At least then in two weeks, in Hungary, everyone could have hit reset and started again.