In what’s been a breath of fresh air to the 2021 Formula 1 racing season, there’s been some uncertainty stretching race to race about finishing orders, and the Driver’s World Championship seems completely up for grabs for the first time in forever. Seven time champion and all-time great Lewis Hamilton’s reign looks vulnerable as 23 year old Max Verstappen leads the point standings with 5 race victories to Hamilton’s 3 heading into the week of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. After a new Sprint Race qualifying format put Verstappen on pole with Hamilton starting 2nd, Saturday’s exciting first lap served as an appetizer to the main course, served in the hot British afternoon of Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Lap one of Sunday’s Grand Prix provided all that was promised and more, as immediately Verstappen and Hamilton engaged in battles. With Verstappen’s Red Bull better in the tight corners and Hamilton’s Mercedes showing superior top end speed, the brilliant Silverstone course was the perfect balance of speed and downforce to bring the crowd to its feet. After multiple side-by-side moments and near misses on that first half of lap 1, Verstappen and Hamilton went into the high speed Copse corner (Turn 9 of 18) nearly even. Within milliseconds…disaster.
Verstappen’s Red Bull was sent sideways at near top speed into the tire barriers and an immediate Safety Car and subsequent Red Flag were deployed, stopping the race and confirming Verstappen’s retirement from the Grand Prix. Hamilton’s car suffered front wing damage but thanks to F1’s red flag rules, his car was able to be repaired while keeping his 2nd place position behind new leader Charles Leclerc. During the lengthy red flag, F1’s native Sky Sports coverage sought opinions from as many ex-racers, team owners, and analysts they could find. While some chalked it up to a racing incident, other’s called for Hamilton to have shown more restraint into the corner, and those in the Red Bull camp….well, it seemed they were calling for an execution. As the Grand Prix restarted, the governing body stewards (basically a council of racing referees if you’re unfamiliar) ruled that Hamilton was responsible for the accident and assessed a 10 second time penalty that would need to be served on his eventual pit stop. After a Grand Prix of fortuitous break after fortuitous break of opponent misfortune for Mercedes following the penalty, Lewis Hamilton served his time and was released with a clear opportunity, but would need to be hammer down to pull off the win. With 2 laps to go, Hamilton was again presented with an opportunity to pass on the inside at Copse corner, and went after the Leclerc Ferrari with different result.
Lewis Hamilton’s drive to come back and win the British Grand Prix in front of the home fans really should be considered an all time performance, and perhaps in pounds, schillings, and pence it will hold its place in history….but today I just don’t feel it. Hamilton’s 10 second pit stop “tack on” penalty only seems excessive when you consider it at first glance. As commentator Martin Brundle pointed out, it’s the second least severe penalty F1 can issue. For a driver and team like Hamilton and Mercedes, it’s nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Did it warrant a higher penalty? Probably not (to my mind), but as such in retrospect it seems unnecessary to have had a penalty in the first place. To those outside the Mercedes camp and the Hamilton fandom, perhaps a weak expression of pity is the deepest form of cruelty. For a brief moment there was hope that Ferrari could pull off the win, that Red Bull wouldn’t be out all 25 points, but it seems Mercedes was given just enough time to make up their deficit. No, I’m not calling a fix, nor am I saying anything was rigged. What I am saying, is that Lewis Hamilton is the luckiest man in Motorsports.
Not since Alain Prost has F1 seen a competitor so uniquely in tune with the dynamic of stewards and happenstance itself to the levels of Lewis Hamilton. All-timer driving talent with an all-timer car mixed haphazardly with the wanton energy of the universe? Why even bother getting up in the morning, some fellow competitors must surely think on occasion. Before today’s incident, the best 2021 example of this tremendous good fortune would have been at Imola.
After having an off track incident mid-race that sent Hamilton down a lap to Verstappen, a huge accident seconds later caused a red flag and, just like with Silverstone, benefits from the unique rules getting back on the lead lap to finish 2nd. It’s Lewis Hamilton’s world and we’re just living in it. Shit, the dude doesn’t even need tires to win races, as he proved last year at Silverstone. We should consider ourselves lucky to see this sort of career in real time, but damn if it doesn’t make me yearn for some parity sometimes.
Please don’t allow my thoughts to cloud your own judgement. If you’re a Hamilton fan, congrats on yet another great memory. If you’re in the Verstappen camp, maybe take a breath and get ready for Hungary, there’s not much more to be done about Silverstone. We’re on the cusp of something great here, a proper send off to the next era of World Championship racing with the new 2022 build. If we can get over our emotions and hang ups and our desire for NASCAR style “street justice” we might be able to enjoy the best F1 rivalry in years.
It’s what we need, and it’s what we deserve.
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