The 2021 Formula 1 world driver's championship battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen has been enthralling but also controversial.
The 2021 Formula 1 championship battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen has been thrilling, to say the least. After years of Mercedes dominance, Red Bull have come up with a title fight that has at least forced the German constructor’s on the back foot.
And while Mercedes may well wrap up both titles come the end of the season, it has been refreshing to see them challenged. A competitive battle is the least fans could and should expect from the sport.
However, one of the reasons the title battle has been so enthralling is because of how acrimonius it has become at times. The season started with both being respectful, but a lot has changed since March.
The latest chapter of this rivalry in Abu Dhabi actually saw Verstappen not only lose out on the race win, but also avoid the podium celebrations afterwards. Such is the animosity going into the final race at Abu Dhabi.
The crowning glory of winning an unprecedented eighth F1 world title?
Or dethroning a legend to become champion for the first time?
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 7, 2021
So what led to a respectful rivalry turning sour? As always, it isn’t just about one or two incidents but multiple on and off-field clashes.
With the season set to come to an end this weekend, we look back at five key flashpoints in the Hamilton-Verstappen title battle.
Perhaps the first indication of how hard these two would race came in the season-opener at Bahrain. Verstappen took pole on Saturday and led the first part of the race. However, Mercedes successfully pulled off the undercut during the first round of pit stops and Hamilton found himself in the lead.
Towards the end of the race, however, the Hamilton’s tyres were beginning to give up on him. Verstappen managed to overtake him on Lap 54 but, having passed him off the track, reluctantly gave the position back. Hamilton went on to win by less than a second’s gap.
The second race of the season, however, saw even more fireworks. Hamilton took pole at the Emilia Romagna GP but Verstappen got the jump on him in the opening lap. The point of contention came in the first proper braking zone of the lap, which saw a minor coming-together.
Hamilton was doing his best to pull off a move on the outside of his rival. However, the Flying Dutchman did not yield an inch and, doing so, bumped Hamilton briefly off the road. It was minor but Hamilton did note afterwards that he felt the need to pull out. It would not be the last time this happened.
By the time the British GP came around, Hamilton’s title challenge was beginning to fade. Verstappen had picked up multiple wins at France, Monaco and the Austria double-header. Something needed to change for the defending champion – and it did, but in circumstances no one saw coming.
The second coming together of the season between the rivals came on the opening lap at Silverstone. Hamilton started second but was putting plenty of pressure on Verstappen and, going into Copse Corner, was ahead. However Verstappen ended up clipping the Mercedes and crashing out.
Hamilton still won the race despite getting a penalty for his role in the accident. But this was arguably the moment which took this rivalry up several notches.
The three races after that passed without major incident – at least between the two title rivals. But all that changed again when they came together once again at Monza. This time, not one but both drivers ended up out of the race due to the accident.
They did clash during the opening lap too, causing Hamilton to drop down a few places. However, the real nasty coming together came in the beginning of Lap 27. Hamilton made his way out of the pits and rejoined just ahead of his rival.
However, Verstappen went for a lunge down the outside that was never on and ended up parking his car on top of Hamilton’s. The halo saved Hamilton from serious injury, but the race was over for both drivers.
Brazil was arguably the beginning of the Mercedes comeback towards the end of the season. After Hamilton was gifted the win at Russia, he went three races without a win. Two of those races – in USA and Mexico – were won by Verstappen, with many wondering if Mercedes’ tilt at the driver’s title was now over.
However, a fresh engine power unit in Brazil helped Hamilton even the odds – even with a five-place penalty plus another full grid penalty for DRS irregularities during qualifying ahead of the sprint. In the race, he was quicker than Verstappen and by the latter stages was catching him.
But Verstappen squeezed Hamilton going into Turn 3 when Hamilton looked likely to overtake; Mercedes expected a penalty to come but strangely, it did not. It mattered little in the end, as Hamilton won anyway. But it was not a decision Mercedes were happy with.
The crazy nature of the maiden Saudi Arabian GP played a part in what was arguably the most bitter on-track battle between the two. Hamilton had pole and started the race well, but two red flags later found himself behind his rival. However, again Verstappen’s overtake – at the beginning of the second restart – came off the track.
Verstappen was ordered to give the place back and proceeded to do so at the end of Lap 37. However, Hamilton had no idea what was happening, having not been informed by the team, and ended up clattering into his rival. He wasn’t helped by Verstappen suddenly braking then zooming away, an action that earned him a post-race 10-second penalty.
To make things worse, he was given a 5-second penalty during the race itself, meaning he had little chance of beating Hamilton. The Brit would take the win, but tensions were high; he accused Verstappen of not following the rules afterwards, and even during the race dubbed the Dutchman ‘f***ing crazy’ for squeezing him off the track.