Predictably enough, the Lewis Hamilton/Max Verstappen Silverstone coming-together dominated the motorsport media in the run-up to Hungary. Quite a bit of the online stuff had become personal, and some of it racially motivated, which is never good.
From a racing perspective though, it all looked pretty straightforward. Lewis Hamilton had been beaten up on the opening lap by Max Verstappen twice already, at Imola and Barcelona. Both moves, with Lewis on the outside, were fair enough, but uncompromising. Contact had been avoided by Hamilton backing out. But a driver can’t keep on doing that, or he gets walked over. It’s just that Copse Corner, at 180mph, ups the stakes somewhat…
“With the Red Bull apparently now the class of the field, any contact arguably disadvantages Max more”
And the racing dynamic had also changed. At the start of the season Hamilton arguably had the best car and so contact or perhaps more accurately, risk, was to be avoided. But that is no longer the case. With the Red Bull apparently now the class of the field, any contact arguably disadvantages Max more.
There was a lot of argument about whether Silverstone was a racing incident or whether Hamilton was at fault. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other, it can be both. And was, in my book. Racing drivers are human and can make mistakes. Some of the TV footage was misleading, showing Hamilton alongside the Red Bull. He was, at one point, but not at the critical time, which is the turn-in point. He was not going to be able to take the corner at the same speed on the inside line – he didn’t actually hit an apex — and was going to have to lift to make it, while Max was obviously going to turn-in faster on the ideal line. So, Lewis at fault. But still a racing incident because racers are competitive animals not robots, and all can make errors.
Verstappen had to settle for third place in front of fervent support
Sometimes they even make deliberate ones, like Ayrton Senna at Suzuka in 1990. The fact that Hamilton was unlikely to see the Red Bull for the rest of the afternoon if he had finished the opening lap behind, perhaps prompted the gung-ho approach. But was it a premeditated move to take Max off and have him suffer a 51g impact? I very much doubt it.
I have some sympathy for Red Bull’s view that the Hamilton penalty was too lenient. A 5s or 10s penalty might be significant in the ultra-competitive midfield, but it clearly wasn’t for a man driving a Mercedes at Silverstone. You shouldn’t be able to make an error, be penalised, and still win the race. That’s all a bit ludicrous.
“It would have been remiss of us not to present it” Christian Horner
Of course, had the stewards factored it in and awarded a 30s penalty, for example, they would have been pilloried for inconsistency after the penalties dished out at the previous race in Hungary. After the event though, there’s not much that can be done and although Red Bull had a right of review (which demands fresh evidence) it was always going to be a lost cause and, predictably enough, was thrown out on Thursday at Hungaroring.
“They (the stewards) felt that it was not new evidence,” explained Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, “but it would have been remiss of us not to present it. We felt that the driving tactics were dangerous, and that is a different suite of penalties.”
Toto Wolff had been upset by Horner’s comments about his driver at Silverstone but 10 days on, temperatures had cooled a little. “Emotions run high,” Christian admitted, “that’s why it’s sport and we’re all entitled to an opinion. But had it been any other driver our reaction would have been identical. I don’t think there was premeditation from Lewis, just a bit of red mist. It doesn’t mean that a seven-time world champion can’t make a mistake or misjudgement. But no way was it personal.”