The race for the Formula 1 world championship took another dramatic twist at the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Championship leader Max Verstappen and Mercedes’ seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton collided and crashed out of the race at Monza, adding another chapter to their rivalry.
The crash meant both drivers were forced to retire, allowing Daniel Ricciardo to win the race while Lando Norris came home in second to secure a McLaren one-two.
Red Bull's Verstappen remains five points ahead of Hamilton in the standings, but what damage has been done to the pair’s already fragmented relationship?
The crash occurred when Verstappen pitted and experienced a horrendously slow stop of over 10 seconds before Hamilton came in for his stop, which was also not as quick as anticipated.
These events meant the pair met on track by chance as Hamilton left the pits. The 36-year-old stubbornly seized the inside line while Verstappen refused to yield and attacked his rival on the outside of the slow-speed Rettifilo chicane.
The Dutchman had over half a car’s length lead on Hamilton entering the chicane, but Hamilton edged Verstappen off the track, causing his Red Bull to dramatically bounce off the kerb and launch into the air.
Verstappen’s car went over the Mercedes, landing back onto the air box positioned slightly above Hamilton’s head. The chassis then slid across the Brit’s cockpit and hit the halo head protection device implemented within the sport in 2018.
The incident – which has reportedly left Hamilton ‘shaken’ – has split Formula 1 fans after Verstappen was given a three-place grid penalty by the stewards after the race, which will be served at the Russian Grand Prix in two weeks.
It is another event in a growing list of contentious moments between the two rivals, following their clash at Silverstone as a potential milestone in their battle for the championship.
At the British Grand Prix, Hamilton clipped the back of Verstappen’s Red Bull on the opening lap, sending the Dutchman crashing out of the race while the reigning champion went on to claim his eighth win at the circuit.
There was an immense fallout from the event, with Red Bull chiefs and fans alike voicing their displeasure at the incident – particularly with Hamilton’s behaviour in the aftermath as he celebrated with the fans while Verstappen was enduring a precautionary visit to a nearby hospital.
Verstappen was not injured at Silverstone and thanks to the halo, Hamilton also walked away from their crash at Monza with nothing but a sore neck.
Hamilton, who criticised the halo when it was introduced as he labelled it the ‘worst-looking modification’ in F1 history, praised the device for saving him after he confirmed the tyre had landed on his head.
While all is good in terms of their physical health, the rocky relationship between Verstappen and Hamilton appears to have deteriorated further, particularly with the Brit questioning why the Dutchman didn’t check on him after the crash.
Verstappen insisted he saw his rival trying to reverse after he had exited his Red Bull, and so knew he was okay – but Hamilton believes he should have been afforded more concern than a glance.
Formula 1 boss Ross Brawn expressed his dismay at Sunday's incident as he declared both drivers were at fault and could have avoided it.
"Ultimately I think it’s another consequence of two guys going head to head and not wanting to give an inch," Brawn wrote on Formula1.com.
“It’s a shame they ended up in the gravel because it could have shaped up to be a great race – and we were deprived of that.
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“I wouldn’t say it has changed the dynamic – you’ve got two cockerels in the farmyard at the moment and we are seeing the consequence of it – and I don’t think either will back off at any moment for the rest of the year.
“But I hope the championship is won on the track, not in the barriers or the stewards room.”
The pressure is clearly on both drivers as Hamilton faces his toughest battle for the world championship since the explosive, fascinating 2016 season when Nico Rosberg – his Mercedes teammate – pipped him to the title.
F1 is now taking a breather with the Russian Grand Prix in two weeks on September 26, but Red Bull must now decide whether to bite the bullet and take an engine penalty that would see Verstappen start at the back regardless of his performance in qualifying or the penalty incurred at Monza.
Either way, there are seven races remaining in this championship battle for the ages – seven chapters left to be written in Hamilton and Verstappen’s storied rivalry.
Bring on Sochi.
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