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Graham Read
Formula 1 Correspondent
6:06 PM 18th July 2021
sports

Controversial Win For Hamilton After Clash With Verstappen Hospitalises His Rival

Sir Lewis Hamilton arrived at his home Grand Prix weekend at Silverstone languishing 32 points behind Max Verstappen, his main rival for this season’s drivers’ title, after Red Bull’s Dutch charger had won the three preceding races. The seven-time champion knew it was vital for him to start playing catch-up in front of a massive home crowd and he very much did so, if under controversial circumstances after causing an accident for Verstappen which left his rival hospitalised and the Red Bull team furious,

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton claimed a controversial victory at today’s British Grand Prix
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton claimed a controversial victory at today’s British Grand Prix
Much of the talk in the build-up to Northamptonshire’s three day motorsport jamboree had focussed on the fact that the atmosphere would be so different with the grandstands and trackside viewing areas once again full of fans and also the fact that the first ever Formula 1 Sprint Qualification race was set to take place late on Saturday afternoon, with the usual Saturday qualifying hour brought forward to Friday. The latter would determine the grid for the 100km Sprint event and the result of this short race would then be used to form the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix, with the Sprint winner recorded as the Grand Prix pole position driver in the F1 record books. The top three finishers in the 17 lap race would also receive an additional 3-2-1 points respectively, but there would be no fastest lap extra point.

The FIA governing body and Formula 1 itself had been keen to tell everyone that there would be a Sprint and a Grand Prix at Silverstone, with only the latter being a “race” in an attempt to preserve a special status for the main event. However, we all well knew that we would be watching two races and soon started referring to the Sprint event as a race too, which is exactly what it was of course.

The jury was out as to how entertaining the Sprint contest might be, with Hamilton fearing it may end up as just a high speed train of cars, whereas F1’s Managing Director of Motorsport Ross Brawn was very hopeful that the drivers would respond to the competitive challenge set by the new encounter. The format is already due to be repeated at Monza’s Italian Grand Prix weekend in September and at a yet to be announced flyaway event later this season.

The Grand Prix circuit configuration at Silverstone is one the drivers always relish, with its combination of fast straights, high-G sweeps and more technical sections, whilst also offering a few decent overtaking opportunities, particularly into the Brooklands and Stowe corners. With the Safety Car deployed in eight of the ten previous Grands Prix at the former airfield track the teams had plenty to think about before a wheel had even been turned.

The Sauber F1 cars will continue to be branded as Alfa Romeo for the foreseeable future
The Sauber F1 cars will continue to be branded as Alfa Romeo for the foreseeable future
Of course F1 had featured in the news headlines a week before the Grand Prix when sadly the rising young British star Lando Norris had been mugged last Sunday after attending the Euros football final at Wembley and had had an expensive watch stolen from his wrist. The McLaren driver suffered bruised ribs in the attack and was understandably shaken, but, whilst admitting he still wasn’t “in perfect condition” after arriving at the circuit, he was determined to put the incident out of his mind once in his car.
2021 Formula 1 British Grand Prix Sprint Qualification Race

1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 17 laps
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +1.430s
3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +7.502s
4 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +11.278s
5 Lando Norris (McLaren) +24.111s
6 Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +30.959s
7 Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +43.527s
8 Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +44.439s
9 George Russell (Williams) +46.652s
10 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +47.395s
11 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +47.798s
12 Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +48.763s
13 Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo) +50.677s
14 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +52.179s
15 Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) +53.225s
16 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +53.567s
17 Nicholas Latifi (Williams) +55.162s
18 Mick Schumacher (Haas) +1m8.213s
19 Nikita Mazepin (Haas) +1m17.648s
20 Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) Retired

Elsewhere on the news front, Alfa Romeo confirmed last Wednesday a multi-year extension of its current deal for the Swiss based Sauber cars to continue bearing its name. However, the outfit will in future have a free choice in terms of its drivers, although it will continue to consider using members of the Ferrari Academy, the current incumbent being Antonio Giovinazzi.

The following day there was an announcement that the McLaren CEO Zak Brown, who also had attended the Wembley football final last weekend as well as the Goodwood Festival of Speed, would be forced to miss the Silverstone weekend and self-isolate at home after testing positive for coronavirus, with the same applying to two of his team members.

Back at Silverstone, Formula 1 revealed for the first time on Thursday both on the grid and online a full-size model of what it believes an F1 car built to the new 2022 regulations will probably look like, although further changes are likely as teams look to exploit the new rules to the full. The driving forces behind the changes are cost reductions and an increased ability for the ground effect cars to follow and race each other more closely, increasing on-track action.

A full-size model of next year’s new F1 car was revealed on the Thursday before the Grand Prix
A full-size model of next year’s new F1 car was revealed on the Thursday before the Grand Prix
Looking at the British Grand Prix weekend timetable, there had been a need to make a late change to the support race schedule after the Porsche Supercup pulled out due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and with most of the teams being based in Germany. However, this created an exciting opportunity for Masters Historic Racing to step in as they quickly found a full grid of 36 entrants for a couple of 30 minute Gentlemen Drivers Pre-66 GT series contests, with the likes of Jaguar E-Types, AC Cobras and Lotus Elans set to compete. Formula 2 and the all-female W Series were also to provide more single-seater action in support of F1.

Friday afternoon’s hour long first free practice session represented the only chance the teams would have to finetune their cars to the circuit before the six pm qualifying period and, with Mercedes not having won since the Spanish Grand Prix back in May, the Brackley based outfit was very much hoping that the upgrades it had brought to Silverstone might improve its performance compared to Red Bull. However, Verstappen went comfortably fastest, with Norris the best of the rest ahead of Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. Hamilton’s fastest time was a significant 0.780s adrift of his title rival, leaving the reigning champion somewhat bemused.

It felt so strange, but also fascinating to watch a Friday early evening F1 qualifying hour and it certainly helped to make the day far more interesting than just a practice one for the drivers, fans and media, which was very much one of F1’s intentions. Hamilton succeeded in finding more pace when it mattered and claimed pole position for the following day’s Sprint Qualification race, his best effort in Q3 being 0.075s better than second placed Verstappen, with Valtteri Bottas and Leclerc making the second row a Mercedes/Ferrari affair. The predominantly home crowd was thrilled to see Hamilton go fastest and there had already been massive cheers from the packed grandstands when Williams’ 23 year old rising star George Russell shone again, qualifying eighth fastest compared to his team-mate in the same car Nicholas Latifi who was only 18th.

2021 Formula 1 British Grand Prix
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr58m23.284s
2 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +3.871s
3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +11.125s
4 Lando Norris (McLaren) +28.573s
5 Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +42.624s
6 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +43.454s
7 Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1m12.093s
8 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +1m14.289s
9 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +1m16.162s
10 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +1m22.065s
11 Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +1m25.327s
12 George Russell (Williams) Lapped
13 Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) Lapped
14 Nicholas Latifi (Williams) Lapped
15 Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo) Lapped
16 Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) Lapped
17 Nikita Mazepin (Haas) Lapped
18 Mick Schumacher (Haas) Lapped
19 Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) Retired
20 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) Retired
Will such performances lead him to a Mercedes seat next year? For now, all that can be said is that both he and Bottas will be advised of Toto Wolff’s decision next month, but there is growing pressure on the Mercedes team principal and part owner to look to the future and promote Russell who seems ready to step up to a potentially race winning car.

There was a second and final practice hour at noon yesterday when the teams focussed on long run data gathering with high fuel levels rather than outright lap times and Verstappen went quickest ahead of the Ferraris of Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, with Hamilton eighth fastest.

Yesterday’s first ever F1 Sprint Qualification race was won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen
Yesterday’s first ever F1 Sprint Qualification race was won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen
At a normal Grand Prix the top ten qualifiers have to start on the tyres used to set their fastest lap in Q2, but the different Sprint Qualifying weekend regulations meant that all drivers were free to start both races on whichever compound of tyres they wished. There had been a feeling before Saturday’s short contest that drivers might seek to gain places during the early stages of the race before then looking to consolidate what they had and not take any further risks with the following day’s full Grand Prix still to come. It really was intriguing to see a grid of F1 cars line up to start a race late on a Saturday afternoon, with the track temperature a scorching 48C. Hamilton and Verstappen were set to start on medium tyres, but Mercedes opted to put third placed Bottas on the grippier but less durable soft alternative in the hope that the Finn might be able to quickly get past Verstappen and then protect his team-mate out front.

However, it all proved to be of no avail as Red Bull’s championship leader made an excellent start compared to the wheelspinning Hamilton and immediately swept into the lead, a position he was to retain to the chequered flag as the Mercedes duo followed in his wake. In contrast, Alpine’s Fernando Alonso certainly enjoyed his opening lap on soft tyres as he carved his way through the field from eleventh to fifth before later dropping back to seventh behind the medium shod McLarens of Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. Leclerc made fourth place his own, but, after an off-track excursion for Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez at Becketts on lap six, the Mexican retired with one lap remaining and would start the Grand Prix from the pit lane after the team had made some changes to the car. Russell was subsequently given a three place grid penalty and one point on his F1 licence after understeering into Sainz at Brooklands on the opening lap, demoting him to twelfth for today’s start.

There was a real party atmosphere in the grandstands on race day and the 140,000 crowd was entertained as usual by a typically brilliant display from the Red Arrows, but tyres, and to be specific, potential tyre degradation was a key concern for every team as the Grand Prix neared. As we have seen in previous years and even during yesterday’s Sprint event Silverstone can be particularly tough on tyres, with the high temperatures just exacerbating the situation. This meant that the strategists had been working overtime trying to second guess what might happen and how to respond to any possible Safety Car interventions.

The sense of anticipation and excitement was truly palpable as the cars lined up for the start and when those famous red lights went out Verstappen resisted intense pressure from Hamilton for the opening half lap before there was a serious 180mph accident involving the pair as they charged into Copse corner. Hamilton was looking to sweep up the inside of his rival into the righthander, but ended up making contact with Verstappen, knocking off the Red Bull’s right rear tyre and sending him flying through the gravel into the barriers. The Dutch driver was clearly shaken, if lucky to walk away somewhat unsteadily to the attendant ambulance for transfer to the medical centre, from where he was subsequently taken to a local hospital for further checks, including a CT scan. The Safety Car was quickly summoned and this was then changed to red flags as the race was halted. There was soon an announcement that the clash would be investigated by the stewards, but what was immediately clear was that Verstappen would play no further part in the race and score no points and Red Bull would pick up a massive repair bill, whereas Hamilton lived to fight on. The Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was understandably highly annoyed about Hamilton’s driving, if relieved that his lead driver “hadn’t suffered serious injury or worse.”

Alpine’s Fernando Alonso climbed six places on the opening lap of the Sprint Qualification event
Alpine’s Fernando Alonso climbed six places on the opening lap of the Sprint Qualification event
Immediately after the incident Leclerc had gained the lead from Hamilton as they exited Copse and therefore the Monegasque driver was on pole position for the standing race restart. When the action resumed Leclerc soon asserted his authority over the chasing Hamilton and the stewards revealed that the latter was to serve a ten second penalty for causing the collision with Verstappen. To the rear of the front pair Norris made a superb pass on Bottas to take third place and Ferrari worried its fans when Leclerc started suffering from temporary power unit woes. Norris’ day was spoiled though by a six second pit stop to switch to hard tyres after a problem with the right rear wheel and Mercedes immediately responded by bringing Bottas in for the same change, moving the Finn back to third position.

Hamilton served his ten second penalty as part of his own stop for hard rubber on lap 28 and Leclerc did likewise two tours later. This left Leclerc leading from Bottas, Norris and Hamilton, who soon usurped Norris for third at Copse. Nine laps later Mercedes issued a “Do not fight with Lewis” team order over the radio to Bottas and he duly let the team leader past at Stowe. Hamilton then closed the gap to the still leading Leclerc and swept ahead at Copse with just two tours remaining. The podium trio ended up as Hamilton, Leclerc and Bottas, with Norris and Ricciardo the best of the rest on a good day for McLaren and Sainz completing the top sextet. On a difficult day for Red Bull Pérez set the fastest lap of the race, but did not receive the additional point as he finished outside the top ten.

The mainly British fans showed huge support for Russell as well as Hamilton and Norris
The mainly British fans showed huge support for Russell as well as Hamilton and Norris
After the race questions were raised as to whether Hamilton’s relatively lenient punishment had been severe enough and Horner criticised what he described as “dirty driving” by Hamilton, with the Red Bull motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko even calling for Hamilton to receive a race ban. An element of ill-feeling will certainly be carried forward to the Hungarian Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time, which takes place at the usually hot and dusty tight little Hungaroring circuit just outside the beautiful city of Budapest. It will be the last race before Formula 1’s four week summer break and that’s perhaps a good thing with the war of words between Red Bull, Mercedes and Hamilton after today’s events.

2021 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship

1 Max Verstappen 185
2 Lewis Hamilton 177
3 Lando Norris 113

2021 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship

1 Red Bull 289
2 Mercedes 285
3 McLaren 163