Lewis Hamilton lays down gauntlet to Max Verstappen in moment which ignites F1 title race and evokes memories of Prost vs Senna

·4-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

An incandescent Christian Horner labelled it a hollow victory while Max Verstappen accused Lewis Hamilton of being disrespectful following their clash at the British Grand Prix.

But partly lost amid the finger pointing and recriminations of a thrilling eighth victory at Silverstone much to the delight of the 140,000 fans gathered was the gauntlet that Hamilton laid down in the championship battle.

Hamilton and Verstappen have not had any shortage of wheel-to-wheel racing in 2021 but this was the flash point of a season in which a rivalry and respect has been talked about without exploding into life in the manner of the title rivals of old.

This had echoes of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill amid the drama and the resulting fall-out.

And it was apt that Hill should be on hand to lend his verdict on the dramatic clash at the start of the race, and the thrilling manner in which Hamilton overcame a resultant 10-second penalty to reel in Charles Leclerc for the win.

As Hill put it: “I think Lewis has declared he’s not going down without a fight, and Max has to factor that in. It’s a hard game and people do have accidents. Lewis wouldn’t deliberately want to see someone hurt. It’s part of the game.”

Hamilton was essentially laying down the challenge to his younger and less experienced, although arguably quicker rival.

Verstappen has earned a reputation as an on-track aggressor within the sport while it is notable how few crashes Hamilton has been a part of in a career which is now into its 15th season.

But the 36-year-old had clearly decided he was done with being bullied in the season to date and was no longer holding back in a championship in which he had fallen 33 points behind Verstappen and without a win since May, his longest stretch since the year he last lost the championship to then teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016.

His positioning on track, his entry into the apex and the eventual contact was pored over by pundits in the aftermath of the race but, in truth, it was a racing incident.

Both drivers could have been reproached – Verstappen for giving so little room and nearly pushing his rival into the wall, and Hamilton for his entry into Copse in what was essentially an atypical manner, although one he argued was caused by where Verstappen had put him on track.

 (@f1)
(@f1)

But there was no need. Those packed into the stands loved it as two racers – both in some ways old school in their approach to the purity of racing in Formula 1 – got their elbows out and decided they were not going to budge an inch.

It tees things up beautifully for the next race in two weeks’ time, the Hungarian Grand Prix, another track that ought to suit a Mercedes, which has been off the pace in comparison to the Red Bull.

In Budapest, both men will have the chance to properly put forward their side of the argument for how Verstappen ended up in the Armco barriers and who was to blame before packing up for the sport’s summer break with the title hanging breathtakingly in the balance.

Hamilton will not go into that race at all apologetic. At Horner’s suggestion, it was a hollow victory in light of the fact Verstappen had ended up in the barriers following a 51G impact, Hamilton said quite succinctly: “It doesn’t feel hollow”.

He also tellingly said he had “a lot of anger after the shunt with Max”, anger at what he sees as Verstappen’s unnecessary level of aggression on the track, which has only equated to no crashes between the pair up to this point because, in Hamilton’s mind, of his level headedness and decision to back out at the last minute.

In front of his home crowd and with an outright record eight championship in danger of slipping away from him, he was never going to do that yesterday.

Jenson Button, a driver who knows Hamilton the racer first hand from his time at McLaren, predicted in Hungary and beyond that the season would be “a feisty one from here on” and that it was “going to be fisticuffs for the next few races”.

It makes for a mouth-watering prospect, exactly as F1 should be.

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