The Formula 1 paddock saw a very controversial race during the latest Silverstone race weekend. Not only was the new Sprint qualifying format seen as debatable, but also the race defining incident between Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) on lap 1. This will most probably, be the major discussion point of the 2021 season.
The Sprint race
Deemed as a very boring format for qualifying, the sprint race on Saturday evening was said to result in a “train” race, where everyone would hold onto their positions in which they qualified on Friday.
However, with only one practice session prior to the Friday qualification, teams did not have much data in preparation for the Friday qualification itself. Hamilton and Mercedes therefore took the initial top 3 positions, while Verstappen qualified second.
There was also much celebration at McLaren and Williams as both Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) and George Russell (Williams), qualified in the top ten.
Verstappen, whose brakes were literally on fire at the start of the sprint race, was not only quicker off the line than Hamilton, but bested the two Mercedes teammates to record the 2021 Silverstone pole position.
With a short, 100km (17 laps) and 30 minutes dash to the flag, no tyre restrictions and an unknown as to how much fuel may be used as well as how long the soft tyres would hold, all drivers and teams were in the unknown.
However, this short race distance also meant that all the 20 drivers raced full-on for 30 minutes, resulting in interesting battles as well a true test of driver ability.
While Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing) qualified in the top 10, the Mexican slid out in dramatic fashion during the Sprint race. He was then asked to retire the car as the team became weary about the power unit itself. All this meant that Perez started the Sunday race from the pits.
The sprint race brought with it much success as true driver skill prevailed and drivers could race 17 laps at full speed.
The Hamilton-Verstappen clash
The 2021 season is seen as one of the most highly anticipated rivalries since the Hamilton and Nico Rosberg duel or the 2010 duel itself.
Fighting head-to-head at almost every race thus far in 2021, a racing incident between Hamilton and Verstappen was inevitable. This could not have happened at a more crucial point and corner in the championship as Verstappen was sent into the tyre barrier this weekend at high speed. This, after the pair duelled wheel-to-wheel for almost the entire first lap.
At the fastest corner on the 2021 race calendar, the infamous Copse corner, Hamilton judged edged Verstappen. While the latter gave Hamilton enough space, the Mercedes driver went slightly wide at the kerb and touched the Red Bull, spiralling the young championship leader into the tyre barrier.
Whilst Verstappen was sent to the nearby hospital for check ups, the race was red flagged.
Upon the restart, Charles Leclerc kept his lead from the line, hoping for another Ferrari win at Silverstone. At the same point, Hamilton was given a 10 second stop-go penalty, which the Brit took later on at the race, only to pass his teammate (under team orders) and Leclerc with three laps to go.
This looked like Ferrari’s best chance yet to take victory, but a continuous engine cut-out and older tyres, resulted in Hamilton being much stronger on fresher tyres.
While Hamilton took both the fastest lap as well as the race win, the Brit now sits only 7 points from championship leader, Verstappen.