The on-track rivalry between reigning Formula 1 world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s young gun Max Verstappen has been nothing short of cinematic this year. As both drivers compete with everything in their arsenal to gain a points advantage, fans have almost become accustomed to the show-stopping collisions witnessed at both Silverstone and Monza. It’s to the point where Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff foresees an explosive conclusion to the 2021 season between his shining knight in the silver arrows and the title challenger that is Verstappen.
“It if was to come to the scenario of the last race in Abu Dhabi and they were to be racing each other for the title, whoever is in front [on points] is absolutely going to try to do the same as in the Senna-Prost years,” Toto Wolff explains during a recent interview with Martin Samuel.
“What happened in Monza? Verstappen took Lewis out because he was about to overtake and he was quicker. And that is totally understandable. If you are racing for the championship and you see it fading away because the other guy is overtaking you, what tool have you got other than the one that makes sure he can’t overtake? We’ve seen it with Schumacher and Villeneuve, we saw it with Senna and Prost twice.”
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A strategic – albeit unsportsmanlike – manoeuvre such as the one outlined above has quite the rich history within Formula 1, as alluded to by Wolff himself. Currently, the 2021 driver standings place Max Verstappen in the lead with 287.5, and Lewis Hamilton trailing behind with 275.5. The next closest competitor is the latter’s Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas with 185 – meaning it’s hard to imagine anyone coming anywhere near #1 and #2 with five races on the calendar left; and meaning at this stage, the title fight is pretty much exclusively between Verstappen and Hamilton. Read: every single point will count.
“I would never give the instruction to crash into anyone else but if they go to that last race and whoever is in front wins the championship, they will be racing each other – hard.”
“And I don’t think you can control it – Hamilton and Verstappen – I don’t think you want to control it because they are the gladiators in their machines. That is what makes this sport so interesting. Because it is ingrained in our nature that we don’t like confrontation and then one is intrigued to see how that relationship unfolds.”
“I look back at Silverstone. Our perspective is of an over-aggressive Verstappen, who has been over-aggressive for a long time but has always got away with it, who then ended up in the wall. We think he should have left space. We saw him crash, which was hard, but he got out of the car and we heard on many occasions he was OK, that he was sent to hospital for precautionary checks but was all right… and that came from senior Red Bull personnel.”
Only time will tell whether Toto Wolff is on the money vis-a-vis his 2021 Formula 1 season prediction.