Formula 1’s engrossing title fight between its seven-time champion and the youngster wishing to steal away his crown took another dramatic turn at the F1 Italian Grand Prix in Monza’s leafy royal park on Sunday.
For the second time in five Grands Prix Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen made contact and, unlike at Silverstone, both finished their races there and then in the gravel. It marked Hamilton’s first race retirement since mid-2018.
Neither up until that point had enjoyed a sparkling Grand Prix.
Verstappen ran second but lost over 10 seconds during a tardy pit stop, bringing him into play with Hamilton, who had been fourth before extending his first stint in a bid to gain positions, briefly holding the lead.
Hamilton emerged from the pit lane narrowly in front of his opponent but Verstappen attempted to go around the outside through the tight first chicane. Verstappen bounced across the elevated orange curb and at slow speed bounced onto Hamilton’s car. Verstappen’s car damaged Hamilton’s rollhoop while the halo, the head protection device introduced into Formula 1 in 2018, deflected the rear right-hand-side of Verstappen’s car away from Hamilton’s helmet as the rear tire bounced across the Mercedes. Even at relatively slow speed it was a frightening incident.
“I am in a little bit of pain,” said Hamilton. “It’s getting worse as the adrenaline wears off but I will work with Angela (his personal trainer) to fix it. “Honestly, I feel very, very fortunate today. Thank God for the halo. That ultimately saved me. And saved my neck. I think in the actual moment it was a big hit and all I could think was to get going again. I don’t think I have every been hit on the head by a car before and it is quite a shock for me. His rear wheel landed on my head. The rear wheel landed on the halo and I think the inside of the most cambered part of the inside of the tire landed on my head.
“If you see the image, my head is quite far forward. I have been racing for a long, long time and I am so, so grateful I am still here and feel incredibly blessed that someone was watching over me today.”
“All I could think of was getting back going and the positions I was losing, I was in race mode and I am sitting there in a little bit of pain and I was like ‘come on, let’s go’ but the car would not move. I did see Max get out of the car and walk by and I felt that a little bit surprising because when we do have incidences, the first thing we have to ensure is the guy we crash into is OK, but the good thing is I was able to get out and it was a long walk back but we live to fight another day.”
Verstappen, speaking before Hamilton’s media session, explained that “Lewis was fine, he was still trying to reverse. I was already out of the car, when you’re not fine, you’re not doing that (trying to reverse).”
Naturally the stewards launched an investigation into the collision.
In the hearing Verstappen ‘asserted that the cause of the incident was Hamilton squeezing him to the apex’ while Hamilton countered that Verstappen ‘attempted to pass very late and should have given up the corner either by backing off sooner or by turning left behind the kerb’.
Stewards deemed that Verstappen was ‘predominantly to blame for the incident’ as he attempted his move too late. He will take a three-place grid penalty into the next round, which will be held at Russia’s Sochi Autodrom on September 26.
Hamilton added that he was “proud of the stewards” for their decision and that “it definitely sets a precedent, and I think it is important for us moving forward that there are strict rules put in place.”
After a second collision in five grands prix – following their high-speed Silverstone clash – might they need a change in approach?
“I always say it takes two people to work together,” Verstappen said, prior to news of the penalty. “I didn’t want to take the easy route and just drive off [track]. “I didn’t want to get into that scenario. I trusted him to fight, I wanted him to fight, everybody starts to put the link between Silverstone in the memory, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it. We are all professional enough to keep on going and race each other.”
Hamilton, though, was less convinced.
“This will continue until we have to learn from our scenarios on track and I don’t have a history of these incidents,” said Hamilton. “Ultimately when you get away with things like that it is easy to continue to do it.”
“I know that I cannot go around the outside of Max, you’ve seen it in Imola, he runs you out of road. You have seen it before, so all the incidents I have moved out of the way and gone over the curbs. I was ahead in Turn 1, I left enough room going into the corner but we barrelled similar speed and I was ahead going into 2. There is a point where you have to conceded 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.”
Their collision leaves the title battle finely balanced. Formula 1 now departs Europe for its ‘flyaway’ races in Eurasia, the Americas and the Middle East, albeit with question marks remaining over certain events due to the pandemic. Eight of the 22 races remain with only five points separating them, in Verstappen’s favor.
“We don’t want to have situations in the future where one loses a position and the only way of stopping the other one scoring is to take him out,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. “Both of them need to leave space for each other, race each other hard but avoid accidents. It was good fun until now, but we have seen halo save Lewis’ life today and Max had this heavy impact in Silverstone and we don’t want to get to a situation where we intervene because someone gets really hurt.”
F1 Italian Grand Prix
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