In possibly the most intense season of Formula 1 ever seen, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have raced hard, up to and sometimes beyond the limit of what many feel is acceptable in grand prix racing in 2021.
As a result, the pair have collided an unprecedented three times this year. Near misses occurred at Imola and Barcelona, before tensions finally boiled over at the British Grand Prix, with many more acrimonious moments and a couple more clashes throughout the season.
We break down the moments of contact below.
1: 2021 British GP
Hamilton was deposed from first by Verstappen during F1’s first ever sprint race held at Silverstone, with the reigning champion realising he would have to have be less accommodating towards Verstappen if he wanted to win the Grand Prix proper and remain in touch in the championship.
Hamilton was much more aggressive during the opening lap duel of Sunday’s race, with Verstappen having to put a wheel on the grass in an attempt to stay ahead at the first corner.
The Mercedes driver then got a slipstream on the Wellington Straight, managing to pull ahead slightly on the outside. However Verstappen held the inside line, taking a tight entry into Brooklands which compromised him in the next corner, Luffield.
Hamilton therefore got another tow from the Red Bull, getting up the inside heading into Copse, before it all came to a head.
The Mercedes backed off slightly, Verstappen turned in, connected with Hamilton and was sent flying into the barriers, which he hit with a 51G impact.
The latter’s car was remarkably undamaged, and Hamilton fought back from a 10sec penalty to win. The race winner celebrated wildly, likely unconcerned by Red Bull boss Christian Horner’s assessment of his move: “It’s just dirty driving.”
Verstappen was sent to hospital, but was ultimately unscathed, saying of Hamilton “Watching the celebrations while still in hospital is disrespectful and unsportsmanlike behavior [sic] but we move on.”
A line had clearly been crossed in the 2021 title fight.
2: 2021 Italian GP
Verstappen led Hamilton by three points as the battle raged on in Italy. Duelling for second place on the first lap, the Merc man got a run on the Red Bull, pulling up on the outside into the Variante Della Roggia. The two banged wheels, with Hamilton bouncing over the kerbs and losing a place to Lando Norris.
This was a foretaste of what was to come. An 11sec pitstop for Red Bull meant that when Hamilton emerged from his, Verstappen pulled alongside his title rival.
On the outside at the first chicane, the Red Bull attempted to nose his way into an ever-closing gap as the pair switched back.
The Dutchman ran out of room, and his car ended up mounting Hamilton’s, destroying the roll hoop before the right rear terrifyingly scraped over the Brit’s head.
The two ended up in the gravel trap, as Verstappen immediately abandoned his car but Hamilton, still desperate for any points advantage he might find, attempted to reverse out before being instructed to switch off.
“Ultimately he lost control, went over the kerb and in to me, so I don’t feel at fault because I got hit from behind,” Hamilton said afterwards.
“There is a point where you have to concede that you aren’t going to make the corner and you go across. Everyone has gone across the kerbs and I am not too sure why Max didn’t.”
“At the end of the day, it was very unfortunate because I don’t think it was necessary,” was Verstappen’s view. “If we kept racing he would’ve still got me out of the corner because there’s more traction on the outside of Turn Two.”
3: Saudi Arabian GP
Hamilton and Verstappen’s third collision of the year at Saudi Arabia last weekend cranked the heat up even more in this year’s intense drivers’ championship battle, with several close shaves leading up to the final contact.
The die for a thrilling race was cast when Verstappen, looking to be on a faster lap in the closing moments of qualifying, hit the wall in the final corner, meaning he would start third with Hamilton on pole.
The Mercedes led easily from the start, but a red flag meant Verstappen could change tyres without losing his lead, after Hamilton had already pitted. Hamilton got the much better getaway on the restart, but the late-braking Verstappen tried to force his way past on the outside, having to take to the run-off before rejoining the track first and pushing the Mercedes wide, allowing Esteban Ocon to get back into second.
Another pile-up one corner later meant the race was stopped again, where race director Michael Masi offered Red Bull the opportunity to start Verstappen behind Hamilton and resolve the incident without referring it to the stewards.
The team accepted, but again Verstappen dive-bombed into the corner on the restart, this time up the inside of Hamilton, forcing Mercedes contact with the Alpine as the trio went three-wide into the first corner.
Once past Ocon, Hamilton slipstreamed his way past the Red Bull on the pit straight, which then – in a similar move to in Brazil two races previously – ran wide into the corner, forcing his rival off with him.
Verstappen was instructed to give the place back, but did ahead of the DRS zone detection line, meaning he could immediately get past again.
Things then came to a head. Instructed to concede the place once more, Verstappen again slowed in front of the DRS line, but so did Hamilton. Verstappen then braked even harder, sending the Mercedes into the back of the Red Bull, damaging his front wing and causing outrage in the Mercedes camp
Hamilton claimed he’d been “brake-tested” by the “******* crazy” Dutchman – the situation was then muddied by the fact Verstappen then decided to scamper off in the immediate aftermath, so he was then handed a 5sec penalty instead.
The reality is both were crawling down the straight in an attempt to reach the DRS line after the other, before Verstappen slammed on the brakes to get Hamilton past, but in actuality ended up just sending the Mercedes into his Red Bull-Honda gearbox.
The Red Bull once again ceded the place, as Hamilton then set fastest lap after fastest lap as he furiously pursued the win and the extra point for quickest time. He got both, but the heated debate between the drivers as to what happened was only just beginning.
“I don’t think I’ve changed the way that I race,” Hamilton said afterwards. “I think we’ve seen multiple incidents this year, even Brazil where we’re supposed to do our racing on the track in between the white lines, and the rules haven’t been clear from the stewards that those things have been allowed, so that’s continued. From my understanding, I know I can’t overtake someone and go off the track and then keep the position. That’s well known between us drivers. It doesn’t apply to one of us I guess.”
“I find it interesting that I am the one who gets the penalty when both of us run out of the white lines,” Verstappen said on the earlier incidents.“In Brazil it was fine and now suddenly I get a penalty for it. Well you could clearly see both didn’t make the corner.”
4: Abu Dhabi GP?
Race director Michael Masi made it clear in his Abu Dhabi GP pre-race notes that a points deduction was a possible punishment if contact occurs again and contributes to the outcome of the world championship this weekend.
With the pair level on points but Verstappen having one more race win, Hamilton needs to finish ahead to take the title – but the Dutchman has shown he will push the absolute limits in preventing that from happening, saying in the pre-race press conference “I will do everything to win and secure the championship.”
Will we see another acrimonious at coming together at Yas Marina this weekend?