Formula 1’s 2021 title battle was already proving to be intense, but the fallout in the wake of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s British Grand Prix collision has given it an extra edge.
Thursday media days are typically routine and sometimes uneventful affairs by F1’s standards. However, that was not the case on the eve of the Hungarian Grand Prix as everyone waited to find out how the dust had settled (if at all) following that controversial Copse clash.
It marked the first time that Verstappen had spoken publicly since his 51G smash, while Hamilton would also get a chance to respond to Red Bull and Verstappen’s claims.
Minutes after F1’s leading protagonists had wrapped up their press conference duties, the duo’s respective team colleagues were attending a gathering with the stewards.
This was a consequence of Red Bull requesting a right to review the 10-second time penalty given to Hamilton for being “predominantly” at fault for the coming together that eliminated Verstappen from the race on the spot and left the Dutchman requiring a trip to hospital for precautionary checks.
Red Bull firmly believed that Hamilton’s punishment was too lenient because he was still able to recover to win the race, while it was left facing a £1.3m repair bill and a significant points loss.
As such, the team pushed the FIA to re-examine the crash in what appeared to be a bold and, as it turned out, unsuccessful attempt to retrospectively get the seven-time world champion’s penalty increased.
It ultimately came as little surprise when Red Bull’s petition was rejected due to a lack of “new, significant and relevant” evidence. The outcome means Hamilton’s win definitively stands, leaving him just eight points behind Verstappen heading into the weekend.
While the verdict had been considered a foregone conclusion by many in the paddock, elements of information that emerged from the hearing created unexpected intrigue and left some unanswered questions.
Along with a series of slides of GPS data and a comparison of Hamilton’s overtake on Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Red Bull included a “re-enactment” of Hamilton’s first-lap line driven by its reserve driver Alex Albon in what was the most bizarre element of the ‘new evidence’ it presented.
Red Bull got Albon to re-create Hamilton’s line into Copse during a private testing day at Silverstone on 22 July, four days after the British GP. This followed a two-day Pirelli tyre test and came just a day before Albon contested the Lausitzring DTM round.
Because Red Bull used a 2019-spec RB15, the test was unrestricted, meaning it did not have to adhere to the 100km limit permitted for filming days, which are used purely for marketing or promotional purposes.
As per article 10.2 of F1’s sporting regulations, teams carrying out testing of “previous cars” should provide at least 72 hours notice “where possible” before it is due to commence, as well as details surrounding the nature and purpose of the test.
It is not clear whether Red Bull already had this outing lined up, or whether the test was specifically used with the sole intention of re-enacting Hamilton’s entry to Copse in a bid to gain evidence it felt was compelling enough to validate its petition.
Either way, it underlined the lengths Red Bull was willing to go to in its attempt to revisit Hamilton’s British GP penalty.
In the end, the information presented was dismissed for being created rather than “discovered” and the stewards ruled there were “clearly” no grounds for the incident being re-examined.
Red Bull’s submission also consisted of a letter – seen by Mercedes representatives Ron Meadows, Andrew Shovlin, and James Vowles – that was referenced as containing “certain allegations” which the stewards noted “with some concern”.
The stewards concluded these “may or may not have been relevant to the stewards if the petition for review had been granted” and confirmed they had been addressed directly, adding they will make “no comments on those allegations”.
Mercedes declined to reveal the nature of the allegations when reached for comment. For the time being at least, the exact contents of Red Bull’s letter are set to remain private, prompting further mystery around the case.
In a strongly-worded statement condemning Red Bull’s conduct in its relentless and scathing public criticism of Hamilton in the days following the crash, Mercedes “welcomed” the stewards’ decision.
“In addition to bringing this incident to a close we hope that this decision will mark the end of a concerted attempt by the senior management of Red Bull Racing to tarnish the good name and sporting integrity of Lewis Hamilton, including in the documents for their unsuccessful right of review,” it read.
“We now look forward to going racing this weekend and to continuing our hard-fought competition for the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship.