Opinion: Will the F1 season take a dark turn?
There’s no going back for Hamilton and Verstappen after crash
No half measures: that’s one of the few things Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have in common. A wary rather than warm respect has always marked their rivalry, which has now taken a potentially darker hue following the dramatic events at the British Grand Prix.
Some have said that their coming together was inevitable. Then again, a former F1 driver told me earlier in the year that this was one rivalry he couldn’t foresee blowing up, because these two had enough sense to avoid a murky path walked most famously by Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. But as we head to the next instalment of this previously sizzling, now volcanic duel at the Hungaroring, it’s hard to see how the pair will come back from that no-half-measures collision at Copse.
Nothing between them can ever be the same again. The night after the race, Verstappen bristled on social media that Hamilton’s victory celebrations had been “disrespectful” and “unsportsmanlike”. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner was scathing in his criticism, while team advisor Helmut Marko – hardly known for a measured response to anything – called for the eight-time British GP winner to face a race ban. A 10sec penalty hadn’t cut it, especially as Hamilton had then had the temerity to win the race.
In the other corner, Hamilton was more conciliatory. But then he hadn’t hit a barrier at 51g. And it sure didn’t sound like he was about to apologise.
Just as it was when Hamilton carried momentum out of Luffield that sucked him into a move he couldn’t resist (and that Verstappen would also have gone for without a second thought, if the roles were reversed), these two don’t tend to back down. That’s a potentially scary cocktail right now.
*Call it what it is*
A studious avoidance of the term ‘race’ to describe the historic F1 Sprint became comical on Saturday at Silverstone, as marketing types tied themselves in knots to avoid any potential dilution of the main event on Sunday.
Let’s be clear: as any racing fan knows, a sprint is a one-at-a-time run against the clock. This was a short race, nothing more, nothing less – and it certainly did dilute what we usually term as qualifying, which took place on this occasion on Friday evening. Hamilton had been magnificent, but it counted for nothing when Verstappen, ahem, sprinted into the lead off the grid on Saturday.
Still, the extra race received a big thumbs up from most and is worthy of further experimentation. It was a disruptor, just as intended: Alpine’s Fernando Alonso shot from 11th to fifth on his stunning first lap, before Sergio Pérez binned his Red Bull at Chapel Curve, ruining his weekend.
Next time, why not throw in a few other flavours? My favourite idea is banning radio communications between the drivers and their teams. To borrow from Kimi Raïkkönen, leave them alone for 17 laps; they know what they’re doing. Don’t they?
*Chadwick's extreme season continues*
Also on Saturday afternoon at Silverstone, Alice Powell won her second W Series race of 2021 (her third out of four, if you count the last of 2019) to jump back to the head of the female-only Formula 3 series. Reigning champion Jamie Chadwick, winner of round two in Austria, made it to the podium in third as five of the six British drivers finished in the top 10.
Earlier in the week, I caught up with Chadwick at Williams, where she is a familiar face as the F1 team’s development driver. She’s also a podium finisher this year in the electric Extreme E off-road series, which is powered by a Williams Advanced Engineering battery – and it was heartening to hear her assertion that racing very much out of her comfort zone is proving beneficial whenever she returns to a Tatuus single-seater.
“It’s so different to Extreme E; I don’t have any parallels as I would with something a bit closer in format,” she told me. “That said, I’ve learned so much in Extreme E that I do use it as a reference. It was spitting with rain ahead of one of our qualifying sessions in Austria, and I was thinking I could do with it being dry: it would be so much easier. But then I thought: ‘What am I talking about? I’ve been in Saudi Arabia going down mental drops in an Extreme E car. This is nothing!’
“I’ve really got to grips with the feeling of being uncomfortable in a racing environment, because of Extreme E. Now in W Series, I feel so much more comfortable and confident. It’s a nice shift in mindset.”
So Extreme E is giving her an edge she didn’t have before? “I would say from a mindset and confidence point of view, yes. You put yourself in this environment that’s so uncomfortable and peculiar, and you’ve just got to deal with it. Extreme E is intense like that. In an environment that’s so much more controlled, with its own entirely different challenges, it definitely gives me more peace of mind.”
It’s a shame, then, that Chadwick has to miss the next Extreme E round (the Arctic X Prix in Greenland) as it clashes with the W Series race at Spa-Francorchamps. But as much as she’s loving the off-road challenge, she knows where her priorities have to lie – especially now that W Series is on the F1 support bill.
“The depth of the field is a lot stronger this year,” she says, “and I’ve been surprised by the F1 impact. The overall reaction from an outsider’s perspective and the exposure it’s getting are far greater than I anticipated.”
That’s the power of F1 right there. It dwarfs anything else in motorsport to a degree that’s a bit depressing for the rest. A bumper total of 356,000 fans over three days at Silverstone? No wonder W Series is enjoying the sunshine. Only MotoGP comes close.
*British GP: Why Hamilton and Verstappen clash was a racing incident*
*Opinion: Formula 1 Sprint qualifying is still questionable*