‘Tactical foul’ or ‘racing incident’? Wolff and Horner have their say on the Verstappen-Hamilton clash
Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff and his Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner were never likely to agree on who was at fault in the dramatic clash between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in the Italian Grand Prix – and so it proved, with Wolff calling it a “tactical foul”, as Horner labelled the crash a “racing incident”, with the stewards ultimately handing Verstappen a three-place grid drop for the Russian Grand Prix.
Hamilton was exiting the pit lane on Lap 26 of 52 of the Italian Grand Prix when he came alongside Verstappen, who having run P2 to Hamilton’s P4 early on in the race, had dropped back after an 11.1s pit stop.
The pair then headed side by side into Turn 1 before making contact, with Verstappen launching off the sausage kerb and coming to rest on Hamilton’s W12’s nose section. Both drivers were unharmed in the incident, their third significant coming together in 2021 after Imola and Verstappen’s racing-ending crash at Silverstone.
And Wolff was clear on who he thought was at fault this time, as the stewards also ruled after the race that Verstappen had been "predominantly to blame", handing him a three-place grid drop for Sochi and two penalty points.
“I would say, in football you call it a tactical foul,” said Wolff. “[Max] probably knew that if Lewis stays ahead, that is the race win possibly.
“It was clear to Max in there that it would end up in a crash,” added Wolff, speaking ahead of the stewards' verdict, “and I think if we don’t manage this in the right way – and I’m sure the stewards will look at it in the right way – it’s going to continue. We’ve had a high-speed crash in Silverstone, we’ve had one car ending up on top of the other on Lewis’ head here.
“How far can we go? Maybe next we have a high-speed crash and land on each other.”
Horner rebuked Wolff’s claims when he faced the media, however.
“I’m disappointed Toto would say it would be a professional foul,” said Horner, using a phrase he'd employed against Hamilton after his and Verstappen's Silverstone crash. “I think it’s a racing incident and thankfully no one was injured today.
“First of all, we shouldn’t have been in that position because we had a poor pit stop,” added Horner. “But Max had the momentum, he had enough space around – I think Lewis gave him enough around the run in to Turn 1 and our opinion would be that Lewis perhaps closed him too much into Turn 2. You can see [Max has] got the momentum into Turn 1, Lewis gives him enough space there, Max alongside, and then obviously an incident.
“I think [Max] earned enough to be given a bit more space to work with on the left there. You can probably argue it from both sides, but if you’re taking the middle ground with it, you’d call it a racing incident.”
Both Horner and Wolff were agreed on one thing, however, as they praised the job done by the halo in protecting Hamilton’s head in the crash, with Horner saying: “The most important thing today is the halo has done its job. It’s an awkward accident with him coming down effectively on top of the Mercedes and thankfully no one was hurt.”
“Fantastic,” agreed Wolff of the halo, made mandatory in F1 in 2018. “If you see the car, the whole thing is damaged over the halo and the wheel was on Lewis’ head.”