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What followed the Austrian Grand Prix (which they both won, editor) was without a doubt the most memorable moment of the season and changed the relationship between Verstappen and Hamilton once and for all. In all the years they’ve competed against each other, their infighting has been cordial and respectful – even then in 2021. In 2019, in Brazil, they had no qualms about giving each other space. “that was awesome!” After all, Max said after the race. Two years later, this is no longer the case.
The context of the British Grand Prix is important. The race at Silverstone has a special place within motorsport and has traditionally been the most attended race. This was also the case in 2021, when organizers secured permission from the British government to let in hundreds of thousands of spectators. Sun shone. The Woodstock of F1 events took place in a venue with very expensive liquor, spectators burnt in red, and trampled on weeds. This atmosphere also extended to drivers. And especially for Hamilton, whose relationship with the British people was not always rosy. So far he has become a national hero. In any case, the scenes that occurred after his fastest qualification on Friday night will not be forgotten soon.
Friday’s qualifying was part of a new trial setup, as was the so-called sprint race on Saturday that will determine the starting order for Sunday. A passionate celebration was held on Friday evening in front of a crowd of fans of idols. A few months ago, when Hamilton was severely affected by a corona infection in a hotel room somewhere in the Middle East, that support seemed far away. Even if you’re not a fan of Hamilton, the party at Silverstone was healing up. The sun rose again on Saturday and spectators flocked in droves. They were disappointed when Verstappen was the fastest in the sprint, but were happy that Hamilton was right behind him. At Copse Corner, a fast corner with one of the biggest stands on the track, Hamilton shot outside. Today, drivers take this turn almost completely, at a speed of about 280 kilometers per hour. Superhuman courage is needed, but so is great confidence in the driver inside. Hamilton was halfway through it and changed his mind. If he’s going to fly off the track here or have an accident, he’ll have to start from the back and work his way forward on Sunday. He thought he might still have a chance, but Red Bull closed the door. Verstappen’s lead was only two seconds ahead, but Hamilton was unable to cut the gap to less than a second. If Hamilton has to start on the field on Sunday, he will have to do something really extraordinary to get him over.
The first lap of the race was practically identical, except that Verstappen started eight meters ahead of Hamilton rather than behind him. Against Verstappen he fared better, with Hamilton being kept out of the first part of the first lap and not allowed to advance further from his side in the Brooklands turn. They came straight and Hamilton climbed again next to Verstappen in Cops corner. Only this time Max went outside to cover the race line, while his rival slipped and started coming along. This time he didn’t back down and the two called. Verstappen fired sideways, sprinted toward the tire stacks and lost one wheel before hitting it. Race management thought the crash was “mainly” Hamilton’s fault and put him back three places in the next race. This decision has been haunting minds for months. Did Hamilton get enough space? Was Verstappen Too Aggressive? Was Lewis too patient? Not entirely unexpectedly, everyone at Red Bull thought the punishment wasn’t severe enough, including Max of course. Even before he left the hospital, he tweeted about it. Along with his father Gus, he watched on TV how winner Hamilton – who came close to Max by eight points – sprayed champagne and celebrated his victory hard. “I’m glad I’m fine,” Max wrote. “Very frustrating because I was taken out of the race in this way. The punishment given does us no good and does not do justice to Lewis’ dangerous behavior on the track. It is the lack of respect and unsportsmanlike behavior that I have to watch win here at the hospital, but we will move on.”
But they did not go further than that. The accident cost Red Bull more than just points. Repairing the car cost more than 1 million euros, in the first year that F1 imposed a spending cap. In addition, the team felt that Max had faltered, with accusations early in his career of aggression and arrogance mounting once again. Red Bull paid the same coin. In interviews, they questioned whether Mercedes shouldn’t foot the bill. The noise was great.
In all the years they’ve competed against each other, their infighting has been very cordial and respectful – until that point in 2021.
After his explosion on social media, Max tried to stay away as much as possible. The next morning, he was back in Monaco for a week off before the Hungarian Grand Prix, a race often dominated by Red Bull. On the day of that race it was raining and at first the track was still partly wet, conditions that drivers like Hamilton and Verstappen live in, but both had serious problems before the race started well. For the second time in a row, Verstappen was knocked off the track by a Mercedes – although this time it wasn’t straight and harsh. In the first corner, Bottas applied the brakes too late and hit the back of Norris’ car, which in turn hit Verstappen. Red Bull was badly damaged, but not repaired and Max was eventually able to get back to ninth place. Hamilton eventually grabbed the P3 and scored enough points to reclaim the lead in the world championship standings, while Mercedes also took the lead from Red Bull in the constructors’ standings. Mercedes must have done well on a track where Red Bull has performed very strongly in the past, especially after being dethroned at tracks such as Paul Rijkaard in France – where they ruled in the past. Because of the summer break, Verstappen and his team now have four weeks to think about how to turn the tide again.
Mercedes was weak, that was for sure.
Hamilton almost fainted on the podium in Hungary and expressed his fear of suffering from Covid-19 disease, the consequences of which are not yet known, but it was clear that they were not conducive to the best performances. Mercedes’ usually quiet PR machine left a nervous and disoriented impression. The stable finally decided to say goodbye to Bottas, who had turned from an indulgent second rider into an angry rider. I wanna be Superstar. Instead, it wasThey brought on rising talent George Russell, but had to make do with Bottas until the end of the year. Mercedes’ shield showed cracks, and Red Bull had to find them on their own. Then there was the issue of Max’s reputation. It had to be protected. He didn’t like to be portrayed as bad guy Nor the team. At least at Silverstone, the hosts were on his side, if not as much as Red Bull would have liked. After a few weeks in Monza the same cannot be said.
In the lead-up to this Italian Grand Prix, discussion of the growing rivalry between Hamilton and Verstappen fizzled out a bit when he kept F1’s worst race a secret – Russell’s switch to Mercedes – finally officially. It was mainly about what it would mean to Hamilton to have Russell by his side and no longer about Verstappen’s attempts to overthrow the King. It was a welcome smokescreen for the Dutchman, who has had all the trouble surrounding his retirement at Silverstone as deeply disturbing. Max is reckless and loves confrontation, but also loses things quickly. Annoying hostility is nothing to him. From this point of view, it is not fair to describe what happened at Monza as the result of bad faith. Hamilton failed in the sprint race on Saturday and will start fourth, Verstappen started in pole position thanks to a Bottas engine penalty. “It should be an easy win for Max” – a somewhat optimistic attempt to get into the head of his young rival, Hamilton predicted. However, Hamilton was also concerned. They have new items every week. They haven’t had any upgrades for just one week. it was right. Red Bull was able to go faster and faster and Verstappen reaped the benefits. But on race day, former teammate Daniel Ricciardo was the Joker. McLaren also made huge strides forward, and Ricciardo, in his Mercedes-powered car, made an unparalleled start at Monza on Sunday, surpassing Verstappen. Hamilton moved into third and moments later tried to pass Max into a corner kick in one of Monza’s infamous tight passes. Max left him a little space and did not hesitate to touch her wheels. The damage was minor and for now the advantage was Verstappen’s favour. But that advantage vanished like snow in the sun when Red Bull missed the new bore procedure and left Max standing for 11 seconds. If he puts in enough effort before his pit stops, he might be able to finish second, ahead of Max. With a perfect stop he would be in front of Red Bull. But a slight hesitation meant that he had to wait another second, which pulled him out of the pits with… As fate kept the two apart for the first few weeks, they were now constantly in each other’s way.
Curious about the rest of the piece? You can read it in the latest Revu.