Through the years Lewis has been very vocal when talking about how he judges how much space to give and to which drivers. Particularly at the Mexican GP in 2019 Lewis said he treats Max differently to other drivers, saying “its very likely you’re gonna come together with Max if you don’t give him extra space”.
The difference between 2019 and now, is that in 2019 Lewis’ fight was not with Max. It made no sense to risk a DNF by defending aggressively. However now, Lewis is very much on the back foot. He came into the weekend with the slower car and a 33 point deficit to Max in the fight for the WDC. So what led to Lewis making what some described as a “desperate move” and what part did Max had to play in it?
The Senna-Prost Comparisons
First lets get the ridiculous out of the way. There were Senna/Prost comparisons flying around all over social media and what people were trying to imply, is that Lewis did this on purpose. The reason for the comparison is the infamous showdown in Suzuka between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost to decide the World Championship. Admittedly the parallels are uncanny when comparing the incidents. Senna much like Hamilton sent it up the inside of Prost, and Prost similar to Verstappen turned into Senna resulting in a coming together. However, this is where the similarities end. Senna had to win the race to stand any chance of retaining his title, and hence had nothing to lose if both him and Prost DNF’ed. Whereas Silverstone is only the 10th race on the calendar, and we have an awful long way to go before a champion is crowned. So everyone can take their tinfoil hats off, because there is no way this was pre-meditated by Mercedes and Lewis.
When Christian Horner called Lewis’ move desperate, it was mostly in a negative connotation. Truth be told, Lewis was desperate and had every right to be. Red Bull had the faster car and the track conditions suited them. As we saw in the Sprint Race, as soon as Verstappen overtook Lewis he immediately pulled a 2 second gap. It was imperative for Mercedes that Lewis took the lead before turning into Maggots and Beckets, as the Mercedes was faster in a straight line and they could have pulled a gap on Max going into the Hangar straight. This is what lead to several lunges from Lewis in the opening lap.
To add to this, in the wheel to wheel battles in Barcelona and Imola Lewis has conceded to Max every time. This undoubtedly gave Max a psychological edge and if Hamilton let it happen again at his home Grand Prix no less, this would have been a major psychological win for Max and Red Bull. Lewis knows better than anyone the impact on the leading driver if their championship rival concedes space multiple times.
Max Verstappen is branded as an aggressive driver by nearly all of Formula 1. He might be aggressive, but he isn’t idiotic. A better way to put this might be, that Max is inexperienced. This is the first time Max has lead a single-seater championship in his motorsport career. Hamilton on the other hand is chasing a record 8th WDC title. Max had every right to defend the way he did going into Copse, he left Lewis enough room to do so. But it must be said a more experienced driver (like Lewis) who knew he had the faster car, would not have defended this hard going in the very first lap. If Max had let Lewis pass, he could very well have caught him up later in the race much like Lewis did to Max in Barcelona.
From a racing-driver’s perspective Max did nothing wrong and this was simply a racing incident that lead to an unfortunate crash. However looking at the bigger picture in terms of the Championship, Max had everything to lose and nothing to gain by defending aggressively in lap one.
It is fair to put a little bit of the blame on Lewis as he did miss the apex when turning into Copse, but similarly when reviewing Max’s onboard Max did see where Lewis was and corrected his wheel before slightly shifting right again to squeeze Lewis. I think despite Max’s little move, Lewis was on colder tyres and might have simply oversteered going into the corner. So on the balance of things, a 10 second penalty on Hamilton might have been a little lenient given the consequences.