Max Verstappen showed a lack of respect. That’s how Lewis Hamilton felt after the duo collided in Bahrain last weekend. And, as Lawrence Barretto explains, the incident was still a hot topic as the F1 teams regrouped in China on Thursday…
THURSDAY’S HOT TOPIC – Verstappen, Hamilton and 'respect'
The crunch moment came on lap two as Verstappen attempted a bold pass on Hamilton into Turn 1. Both were trying to make up lost ground after being out of position on the grid. But both took very different approaches.
While Hamilton was cautious at the start – overly so, as he’d later admit - Verstappen was his usual attacking self. He made up four places and was going for a fifth when he got the reigning world champion in his crosshairs.
Initially it looked like Verstappen would get the job done, but as they rounded the right hander the two collided, with Verstappen picking up a puncture that subsequently damaged his transmission and ultimately forced his retirement. Hamilton, meanwhile, survived and went on to finish third.
Verstappen questioned the stewards. Hamilton mumbled an insult and later criticised Verstappen. To the Briton, it wasn't a respectful move. He said a driver like Fernando Alonso or himself would have scored points in that car, rather than ending up with nothing.
When asked in Thursday’s press conference about Hamilton’s criticism, Verstappen stood his ground. He remained bullish. He reckoned Hamilton was critical because “it is quite simple and easy to blame the younger driver”.
He added: “That’s the only way I can see it.” In his mind, Verstappen doesn’t feel he has done anything wrong.
Would the incident force him to change his style? “These things happen,” said the 20-year-old Dutchman. “There is no reason for me to change anything. I might have a talk with him if it's really necessary, but why should I change something?
“I don't think I did anything wrong in terms of my approach. I was just trying to overtake a car and I think it was a fair chance - I went for it. It is very simple. I don't understand why everyone is on top of the topic as these things happen in racing."
Later on Thursday, Hamilton held his usual briefing in the Mercedes hospitality unit and gave his side of the story. Would he race Verstappen differently in the future?
“I don’t think so,” was the world champion’s response.
As veteran of 210 Grand Prix starts and the third oldest driver on the grid, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Hamilton looked to defuse the situation.
“Look, I have a lot of respect for Max and I hope you can see that from the comments I’ve said about him in testing where he’s got great potential to be the champion,” he said.
“As we all know he’s such a talented driver. I mean, I was in the same place when I was young, similar age, or older actually. But, still it’s such a learning process being with all the pressure, being in a top team.
“He’s going to have some great races and he’s going to have bad races, just as I will do today, even though I’m much older than him.”
When asked by F1.com if he planned to speak to Verstappen about the incident or indeed if he felt it necessary to speak to a driver after such a clash, Hamilton revealed he had seen Verstappen and apologised for his role in the incident.
“I generally do my talking on the track. After this incident I didn’t. But I mean I saw Max, for example, just now.
“I think it’s always good to show respect. More importantly, being that I’m the older driver I felt that it was important that I went to him, so as we were just signing [autographs] just now, I just shook his hand and I was like, ‘Look I’m sorry about the last race.’
“Regardless of if it is his fault or my fault, it’s in the past. Hopefully, that sign of respect shows a lot and helps you turn the page and move forwards, racing each other and hopefully keeps respect between you as I think that’s important between drivers.”
What did Verstappen say? I don’t really know, there was a lot noise around us, but he acknowledged me.”
The clash has been put to bed for now, but they are two of the leading protagonists in F1 and it surely won’t be long before they are fight over the same piece of asphalt again.
How will it unfold next time?
Will both follow through and not change their driving style? Will Hamilton be as critical and latterly as forgiving if a similar incident is repeated? Will Verstappen defend himself as vigorously or adjust his reaction?
They may be at opposite ends of their careers, but their rivalry is fast shaping up to be a defining one of this era. Verstappen v Hamilton – the next act. The stage is set.