Hamilton/Verstappen and their game of high-speed chicken

Sundays battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton ended early

Sundays battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton ended early

In the first British Grand Prix since Murray Walker’s death, and with his face etched onto the trophy for the winner, came an incident that could make use of the late legend’s own words: “It’s happened immediately…” Well, almost immediately. But make no mistake, the clash between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen will become one of the iconic moments in F1 history. It is the modern incarnation of the infamous Ayrton Senna/Alain Prost collisions – though, I believe, without any of the premeditation or intent that defined the 1990 version, which triggered those famous Walker words quoted above.

Hamilton did not take Verstappen out on purpose. But he was clearly more at fault. He got it fractionally wrong on the inside and didn’t hold his car as tight as he could have. With Verstappen leaving little room even with a small adjustment upon turning for the corner, Hamilton’s line took him into the Red Bull’s right rear corner. Tiny margins, a relatively delicate touch – a ferocious crash for Max and an enormous controversy for Lewis.

Because I believe both drivers had a role to play in avoiding the accident I would have been fine with this being chalked up as a racing incident. But I also have little objection to it being a Hamilton penalty. What I hope is, like I’ve felt with other recent (but less dramatic) clashes, we simply have a consistent approach in the future.

Still, I don’t think incidents like that merit disqualification or a race ban as the Red Bull camp have suggested. And I don’t think Red Bull really believe so either. It’s worth remembering that in Spain, Christian Horner seemed delighted by the fact Verstappen would have put the two title rivals “in the fence” if Hamilton hadn’t got out of the way at Turn 1. He called that a “full Max Verstappen move”. Teams will always adopt the position that suits their own interests.

That Verstappen move in Spain was aggressive but it toed the line and I defended it at the time. It was hard racing. Ruthless. It only ended well because Hamilton adjusted his line to avoid contact, but he played his part – so the move was OK. Had Verstappen backed out at Silverstone in the same way, nobody – not even Horner – would be saying things like ‘you don’t overtake at Copse’. Not that they should be saying that anyway. Copse is a completely legitimate corner to try to overtake through. Hamilton DID get the move slightly wrong. But he wasn’t wrong for trying the pass.

I know what this sounds like and I’ve had all the accusations of bias I’ve come to expect when you don’t agree 100% with fans of a particular driver. But does that mean Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc are all biased towards Hamilton too? They’ve all described it as a racing incident. So has two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen.

”When you are racing at those speeds and going for the win, these things can sometimes happen,” Hakkinen says.

”As a top driver, going for the world championship, you are not there to back off. It’s our job to race, and I know from my own experiences that when you are racing wheel-to-wheel there is always the possibility of the cars touching.”

The consequences of the Silverstone clash were obviously bigger because it’s a high-speed corner. That Verstappen’s OK really is the most important thing because 51G is an absolutely enormous impact to go through. But consequences can easily make judgements biased. If you consider the specifics of what happened to create the accident, there was not anything desperate or heinous about this. It is simply what happens when neither driver is willing to yield, and someone gets it wrong.

It’s a game of chicken and neither backed out. Contact is inevitable in those situations. It’s felt inevitable between these two for some time. At Silverstone it was Hamilton trying to pass Verstappen. At another race it could easily be the other way around.

The Hamilton and Verstappen fight has been escalating all season but the wheel-to-wheel stuff had broadly stopped because Red Bull developed a slight car advantage. Perhaps they’ll never be close enough again to risk a repeat. But with only eight points between them and neither team-mate being in the picture, I somehow doubt this is the last time Verstappen and Hamilton start a race off the front row and the first lap is a zero-compromise showdown.