Analysis | Why was the Hamilton and Verstappen 1st lap battle so ferocious?

19-07-2021 11:30 | Updated: 19-07-2021 12:19
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Analysis | Why was the Hamilton and Verstappen 1st lap battle so ferocious?

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen's title fight has been bubbling along nicely over the last five months, but the crash during the opening lap of the British Grand Prix has ignited the fires and burst F1 at the seams. Wherever you sit in the debate about who is at fault, it was a historical Formula 1 moment that will be remembered for a very long time. But why was the first lap battle so ferocious? 

The British Grand Prix was the fourth time in 2021 in which Hamilton and Verstappen have shared the front-row together. A number of on-track battles are in the history books, including a first corner duel in Imola. Even ignoring the final outcome, the battle at Silverstone was ferocious and neither driver wanted to step down. 

The first lap was key

The whole sprint qualifying debate has gone by the wayside for the time being. But without doubt, the sprint played a pivotal role in Sunday's Grand Prix. On Saturday, Hamilton started from pole but lost the lead on the opening lap. The Dutchman stormed into the distance and ran away to take the chequered flag. Within a few laps, he escaped the DRS zone and Hamilton was unable to pose a threat. 

As always, the Red Bull car is phenomenally strong in the corners. Stronger than Mercedes. Following this sprint, Hamilton knew his best, and arguably only chance was to get ahead of Verstappen early. The day before, he had learnt that he couldn't let Verstappen go. Whether this be off the line, at the first corner, or using the slipstream on the opening lap. He had to get through to stand a decent chance of winning the race. As well as sprint qualifying playing a part, Hamilton would've also had the two weeks in Austria in mind. 

Over recent weeks, Red Bull have managed to match or even beat Mercedes in terms of straight-line speed but the set-up on the RB16B around Silverstone simply didn't work for straight-line speed. In fact, during Friday evening qualifying, Verstappen recorded the lowest speed at the speed trap. The speed trap at Silverstone is located before the braking zone on the hanger straight. 

Verstappen is nearly 10 km/h slower than Hamilton here. Teammate Sergio Perez is also down the field in 14th place, around 5 km/h slower than Bottas and Hamilton.

The data from qualifying

 
 
 
 
 
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As a result, Verstappen knew that he couldn't afford to give Hamilton clean air as he would've pulled away into the distance using this straight-line speed. The 23-year-old's biggest threat of losing the race was an overtake at this point. Particularly with Perez starting the Grand Prix from the pits, Red Bull Racing couldn't control the strategies as both Hamilton and Bottas were at the front.  

Before the race started, Christian Horner said to Sky Sports: "Difference yesterday was the start and that will be key today." So much attention was focused on the start. Neither driver could afford to give each other an inch because it would've ended in defeat should the race had been completed without a safety car or another random factor such as a puncture. 

Opinion

The two drivers have been racing each other on the circuit through the 2021 season, and Hamilton has often backed off to avoid serious contact. The Imola example stands out. But this time he didn't. The Championship is heating up, and the British driver was staring down the barrel of a serious deficit in the Championship standings. And the emotionally charged predominantly British crowd also played a part. 

Verstappen was never going to back down either. He has always been known to get his elbows out in battles like this. And who can blame him, the Dutchman is gunning for his first Formula 1 World Championship. Especially with rule and regulation changes just around the corner, you never know how many chances you're going to get in Formula 1. Even if you're one of the best drivers.

Wherever you sit in the debate about who is at fault, this battle is great to see at the top of the Formula 1 pyramid. And this incident has ignited the fight. In years gone by, rivals have gone through the pit lane to meet each other, others have said some words in the press. This time, unsurprisingly in this day and age, social media plays a role. Verstappen's Tweet labelling Hamilton as "disrespectful" and calling his celebrations "unsportsmanlike" have only added fuel to the fire. 

Formula 1 fans are in for a treat during the rest of the season. Heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix, emotions are riding high. We're not even halfway through the season yet, so expect additional battles and more fireworks. It's hard racing at the front of the field. It's just what Formula 1 needs. 

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