Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and George Russell came to blows at Turn 1 in the opening stages of the Qatar Grand Prix.
Inevitably, questions of how these two drivers will respond to the incident - Hamilton has taken the blame - but how they move forward racing each other is bound to be a hot topic.
Our writers give their verdict on what happened in the incident and the implications it has on the future.
Only one driver was at fault
Hamilton spoke to us after the collision and said he would take responsibility because he feels that’s his role as the senior driver in the team.
That isn’t quite a full admission of guilt for what happened at Turn 1, and it was interesting that he made a point of telling us that Russell had apparently said “let’s work together today” because the two Mercedes were starting on different tyres.
After the race, and presumably after seeing the replay which he said he hadn't when talking to media, he did tweet that it was 100% his fault.
I’ve watched the replay and it was 100% my fault and I take full responsibility. Apologies to my team and to George.— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) October 8, 2023
So, perhaps Hamilton’s true reading of this situation is that Russell shouldn’t have placed his own car where he did, given he knew Hamilton was on the faster starting tyre and so would most likely be coming past using that extra grip.
That maybe also explains why, having been furious initially, Russell was at pains to tell his team he didn’t even look for Hamilton because he was focused on racing Verstappen.
Clearly, this misunderstanding has had massive consequences for Mercedes in this race, so they will need to iron out their battle plans a bit better in future.
Judging the incident on its own merit, I don't really see what else Russell was supposed to do. Hamilton didn’t have sufficient momentum to make that pass on the outside stick - he needed more speed and/or a wider line to get around that corner intact.
It might have worked out better had only his chief target Verstappen been there on the inside, but three cars abreast into one corner very rarely works out well - especially for the car on the outside.
Hamilton has made a risky move and effectively turned across Russell's front wheel then claimed he's been taken out.
It looked after Suzuka that Mercedes’ driver lineup was perhaps an accident waiting to happen at some point - given how close those two are in performance terms and thus increasingly likely to occupy similar parts of the circuit - and now that accident has happened Mercedes needs to work out how to handle the fallout in the right way.
Credit to Hamilton for taking blame
Credit to Hamilton for holding his hands up and accepting responsibility publicly once he'd seen the incident. Russell held as tight a line as he could alongside Verstappen. He had nowhere else to go.
Even in the interviews Hamilton gave during the grand prix, when he said he hadn't seen it, he sounded like someone who either had seen it, or had been given a perspective from someone whose judgement he trusted. You could hear it in his tone.
That's not to say the move wasn't there to be tried. It was a valid attempt, he just misjudged it ever-so-slightly.
Inevitable this was coming
This might be the first time it’s had major consequences but it’s not the first time the Mercedes drivers have flirted with disaster this season.
It was perhaps inevitable with two closely matched drivers that this was going to happen at some point.
So far, they’d more or less kept it clean. Now they haven’t it’s time for some action.
Mercedes had a huge chance today to put some serious distance between itself and Ferrari today with Carlos Sainz out before the race even began, but it blew it.
Likewise chances to beat Red Bull are few and far between. Starting second and third might have felt like one but even if Hamilton overcame Verstappen at Turn 1, he was never ever going to be able to stay there for more than a few laps considering he was on softs.
Firm action doesn’t mean let’s have team orders at Mercedes every race but it does mean the drivers (in this particular case Hamilton) need to better recognise what’s at stake in the bigger picture.
And that understanding has to come firmly from Mercedes.
Worrying incident for a driver of Hamilton's calibre
I wonder if this incident points to the end of the part of Lewis Hamilton’s career where he’s an elite overtaker or one of the best in wheel-to-wheel scenarios.
There have been other moments where Hamilton has made errors in the last couple of years, and maybe you give him a bit of slack, after years of dominating Formula 1 he’s been thrust back into a tough midfield.
But this one felt different to me. He knows he’s on the soft tyre and that his rivals would get a slower start, and there was potential for three-wide into Turn 1. And he still messed it up with space to bail on the outside. It wasn't an unusual mid-race random scenario. You could have drawn this up and predicted it pre-race.
That’s a really tough move to defend and on watching it, I'm not surprised Hamilton became more absolute in his admission that he was at fault.
Important to not over-analyse this
I suspect Toto Wolff was able to use fresh eyes from afar to appraise this incident.
On one hand, he might just log this clash as a one-off from his talisman driver but on the other, there might be something at the back of his mind questioning the sheer clumsiness of it from a usually laser-precise racer.
It says a lot that Hamilton's misjudgments are so rare that when they occur so viscerally as this one, there is a temptation to overanalyse them.
Much more important will be Russell's conduct after the incident internally. The presumption is that he will accept the apology gracefully and correctly (that's what he's done publically). Yet, there must also be a temptation, not to capitalise on it as such, but to at least try and use it to his advantage in order to finish an often frustrating season off well, so as to germinate a few seeds in his team-mates head for 2024.
That would be a strategy which bears fruit for Russell would he have the luxury of any other team-mate in the next garage. As history dictates though, Hamilton will have likely forgotten about it all by the time he leaves the track this evening and will already be dialling himself into COTA a fortnight hence and won't hesitate in making a similar, perhaps more poised move, should an opening occur again.