F1 clash debate: The crash between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen at the British Grand Prix was one of the most polarizing incidents of the 2021 Formula One season.
But whether you hold the opinion that Max Verstappen could have left more room, that Lewis Hamilton was completely at fault, or that it was just a racing incident, there are some important elements that have been overlooked in the fog of the war of words.
As with many other controversial incidents in high-performance sports, things are not always as straightforward as they seem at first glance.
There are gray areas in such incidents, and it is often the digging into the details that provides the strongest arguments for what really happened.
The harshest criticism of Hamilton’s behavior came from the Red Bull camp after the race.
Verstappen himself called Hamilton’s actions a “dangerous move” in his tweet after the race, and Red Bull motorsport adviser Helmut Marko went even further and called the Mercedes driver’s behavior “reckless” and “negligent.”
These comments contrasted with the calmness of the Mercedes team, which claimed that, in its opinion, there was nothing out of the ordinary.
“It’s a situation you’ve all seen in the past when great drivers race each other,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said. “When no one is willing to concede, then this situation can happen. But to me, it takes two to tango.”
It’s important to understand that even though race stewards gave Hamilton a 10-second penalty for his involvement in the collision, they did not find him completely at fault for the accident.
The stewards’ official statements are always written in a very specific manner, and this time they made it clear that Hamilton was found “mostly” guilty.
By comparison, when George Russell was fined three places on the starting grid for colliding with Carlos Sainz in a sprint race, the stewards made it clear that he was completely at fault.
In that verdict, they wrote, “Car 63 was found guilty of the incident.”
But whether that meant that the stewards thought Hamilton was 51%, 60% or 90% at fault, we’ll never know.
There was also a lot of talk about Hamilton not being completely beside Verstappen at the turn-in point, prompting some to suggest that he had no right to turn.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner was quick to point this out in a radio message to Formula One race director Michael Masi.
“He was never around that corner,” Horner told Masi.
Numerous screen shots from Verstappen and Hamilton’s on-board panels have subsequently surfaced, showing indeed that the Mercedes was not fully next to Red Bull at any point.
All of this supports the view that Verstappen had every right to turn, so the other driver is to blame for any collision.
However, when it comes to determining the right to turn, it is important to understand that the driver on the inside does not have to be completely beside himself.
When it comes to attempting to pass from the inside, it is considered sufficient for the driver to be “significantly” close before the turn to qualify for a spot.
This is what Mercedes is referring to, and it is believed to have been part of the message that Wolff emailed Masi and gave to the stewards during the accident investigation.
While there are no officially published rules specifying exactly when a driver attempting to overtake a rival must give way, the stewards have been given guidelines on the matter.
Although they are not in the public domain, it can be understood that they indicate that a driver passing on the inside has the right to turn – provided he passes it “cleanly” – if there is a “significant overlap” with the car in front.
In contrast, the manual states that if a driver attempts to overtake on the outside on the approach to a turn, he must be at least fully side-by-side to have the right of way.
It was on this basis that Lando Norris was given a penalty at the Austrian Grand Prix when Sergio Perez overtook him completely on the outside at the entrance to Turn 4.
The basic essence of these criteria for when a passing car can claim to be ahead in a turn can be seen here as an example of how it works on the Copse entrance.
Mercedes engineering director Andrew Shovlin clearly pointed out that these guidelines are in the document when explaining why Mercedes believes Hamilton’s penalty is unreasonable.
“If you look at the guidelines that the stewards have for determining who is at fault for overtaking, Lewis was close enough and we think Max should have given him room to race,” he said.
“If you look at the sprint car race, if you look at the first lap of the main race, Lewis constantly had to step back to avoid a collision, and he was able to put his car in a position where he could stand on his own.
“Max behaves aggressively and it is inevitable that one day we will have an accident. But we’re happy with the job Lewis did and a little disappointed that we got a penalty, but just happy that we were able to win the race.”
Of course, the question of what constitutes “significant overlap” remains open for debate.
However, there can be no doubt that at the maximum point when Hamilton was next to Verstappen on the approach to the Kops – namely his front wing was in line with the front wheels of Red Bull – it should certainly be considered significant.
But equally, having that “significant overlap” does not give the driver carte blanche to do whatever he wants in the upcoming corner.
Management suggests that the driver must still “pass the corner cleanly,” which, in the opinion of the stewards, Hamilton did not do.
Because Hamilton deviated slightly from the apex and developed too much speed, which washed him into Verstappen’s path, it was deemed that Hamilton missed an opportunity to avoid an accident.
The argument to stick to the apex was further developed later in the race when Hamilton lurched much closer to the inside kerb as he made the winning run past Charles Leclerc.
As Mazi said, “Most of it was similar to what happened to Charles later, that he could have, say, nestled closer to the apex. And that’s where they found, and I think the wording was pretty clear under the regulations, that he was predominantly at fault.
“He wasn’t considered totally at fault for that, but he was considered predominantly at fault, that he could have lined up further.”
Digging deeper into the FIA’s interpretation, it’s clear that neither Hamilton nor Verstappen was completely innocent, and neither of them was completely at fault.
And in any accident like this, where there is shared blame, it means that the divided opinion we saw after the race is unlikely to ever reach consensus.