until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

The 2021 controversy Verstappen’s side still can’t let go of

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

The moment Max Verstappen described as the “lowest point” of his season is something that his camp has not completely shrugged off, even in the wake of winning the Formula 1 title.

When Verstappen collided with championship rival Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone, he was sent into the Copse barriers at high speed.

Dec 20 : Our top 10 F1 drivers of 2021

After a mandatory medical centre visit, Verstappen was sent to hospital for precautionary checks while Hamilton went on to win the grand prix.

Wild celebrations from Hamilton and his Mercedes team followed him catching and passing the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc late on to secure a victory that hacked into a big championship lead Verstappen had built with three consecutive wins.

That angered Verstappen and Red Bull, who labelled the scenes “disrespectful” at the time and continued to be critical for a while after the race – something that has resurfaced in the wake of Verstappen’s dramatic title win.

Technical chief Adrian Newey brought it up unprompted immediately after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

He said that as the race and the title looked like it was slipping away from Verstappen “you naturally start thinking about the year and what we could have done” and “some unlucky moments”.

Newey stressed: “Copse in particular, which personally still really grinds with me, what happened there.”

It is something Red Bull has not been able to let go of completely, and it’s still something Verstappen and his father Jos feel similarly about.

In his post-race champion’s press conference, Verstappen reflected on “sitting in hospital the whole evening having checks” as “definitely the lowest point”.

Given it stands as the biggest crash of his career, it’s not unusual for Verstappen to see it like that. Especially as in the days following he “really felt bad, sore everywhere” and knew what it had meant for the championship.

Verstappen was back in the car immediately for the next race in Hungary and used simracing to be sure there would be no ill-effects from such a big impact.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Practice Day Budapest, Hungary

“They told me for a few days I was not allowed to be on screens and TVs, like I just had to rest my brain after the incident,” Verstappen said in an interview for Dutch sponsor CarNext.

“And then I did an endurance race on the sim just to see if everything was working well, that I didn’t get dizzy or whatever. And it was fine. The first few laps, the focus was a bit off. But I think it was nice just to get back into it.

“Of course in the F1 car everything goes miles faster. But I could feel everyone was a bit like, ‘how’s it gonna be?’ – for me that’s the motivation to show them it’s gonna be fine.”

As both virtual and real comebacks were completed without a problem this seemed like something that would gradually pass, even if it was unsurprisingly a major bone of contention at the time.

But it’s clear that still hasn’t happened and is likely to be the closest thing to a grudge that Verstappen’s side holds onto for a while longer yet.

Verstappen views that collision uniquely compared to other run-ins with Hamilton, such as at Monza. He said that was “not great” and “luckily everyone was safe”, given the dramatic image of Verstappen’s car perched on top of Hamilton’s, yet doesn’t consider that anywhere near as problematic a memory.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Race Day Monza, Italy

The reason for his different view of the two incidents is probably the cause and consequence. Back in July, Verstappen and Red Bull never explicitly stated in public that they felt Hamilton had taken him out on purpose – but it was clearly implied at times.

At Monza they both crashed out so for Verstappen it was not a negative outcome for the championship. And at that race, Verstappen was the one criticised for not checking Hamilton was OK – especially as unbeknownst to Verstappen, his wheel had hit Hamilton’s crash helmet on the way over.

In the aforementioned CarNext interview, Jos Verstappen’s comments showed how much the Silverstone incident is still a sore point.

“When you see that happening, with such a big impact, you don’t think of anything else,” he said.

“I run down the stairs, had to go to the medical centre, just wanted to see him. And then afterwards, you look at the incident and how things are happening.

“And I have my own view about what happened there.

“But also after, they were celebrating like they won the championship, Toto and the driver, and I was sitting with him [Max] in the hospital to see if everything was alright.

“As a dad, I don’t like that. You can’t – you put somebody in a hospital, and then they celebrate like crazy.

“For me, that was very difficult to handle.”

In that answer, Jos Verstappen even fails to mention Hamilton by name. It may just be a slip, but as he referred to him as ‘Lewis’ at other points in the interview it could be interpreted as an example of the underlying resentment that’s clearly still there.

It may be that in the weeks, months, and years to come, even the feeling around what happened at Silverstone will gradually fade.

For now it’s a marker of the intensity of the title fight and how it triggered emotional responses in ways rarely seen, even by F1’s standards.

Jul 19 : British Grand Prix review
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks