What started out as a healthy competition turned gradually into a full-blown rivalry between the Red Bull and Mercedes drivers.
There is no denying the fact that the 2021 Formula 1 season was one of the most extraordinary seasons in recent history. What made it even more exciting was the title rivalry between the two main protagonists, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.
In the early stages of this year’s season, the two had their share of action against each other but any notions that their opinions of each other would in any way diminish were quickly rubbished.
However, going into the remainder of the season, it quickly became obvious that the above would not be the case. After the first four races, there were multiple incidents between the two which ultimately turned their relations sour for the rest of the season.
At one point, Verstappen even went so far as to say that they both hated each other.
Things began to heat up on the track
The trust and mutual respect between the two began to noticeably erode especially after the race in Silverstone where the two collided and Verstappen was sent flying into the barriers at Copse at a colossal impact of 51G.
The two took almost no time to once again collide in spectacular fashion as they came together in Monza. Going into the tight first corner after two slow pit stops let both the drivers down, neither left any space which ultimately resulted in Verstappen’s Red Bull mounting the Mercedes. Both the drivers were effectively knocked out of that race.
People noticed and even pointed out that after the crash when Verstappen got out of the car, he did not stop to check if Lewis Hamilton was alright. When asked about this in the next press conference, Verstappen made a remark over Hamilton’s appearance in the Met Gala the very next day.
“I think he was absolutely fine because also flying on Monday or Tuesday to America to attend a gala, I think you only do that if you feel fine.”
While these two were the more drastic instances of their skirmishes on track, several other smaller but equally significant incidents started to appear which started to show the cracks in their once respectful, ‘hard but fair’ racing philosophy.
Be it the Turn 4 incident in Brazil where both the drivers went off the track when a charging Hamilton tried to overtake Verstappen or the infamous ‘brake-test’ incident in Saudi Arabia, plenty had gone wrong and had turned the relationship between the two bitter.
Where it all went south
For Verstappen, two incidents really stood out for him the entire season where he felt the most negatively towards Hamilton and Mercedes.
The first one was, of course, Silverstone. At a later interview, Verstappen went on to describe what went on in his head after the mighty crash. He said that the time he spent in the hospital, although short, was the lowest point in his season.
What particularly irked him was the scale of celebration which Lewis Hamilton engaged in after he won that race.
Even Red Bull was left bitter over the fact that the Briton won that race after a ‘lenient’ ten-second penalty was bestowed upon him for putting their driver in the hospital.
Even Verstappen’s father Jos later commented on it, saying, ‘They celebrated as if they’d won the championship.’ Clearly, Silverstone had a bigger impact on the two’s relationship than any of us had fathomed.
The next real moment where Verstappen felt adversely towards the entire Mercedes team was when after the race in Brazil. Despite winning that race, Mercedes still appealed for the Turn 4 incident to be investigated. That was when, according to Verstappen, Mercedes showed ‘who they really are.’
“You can see their true nature come out”- Max Verstappen after the Sao Paolo Grand Prix
The environment in the teams did not help
Lewis and Max’s relationships were not the only ones that soured during the course of this season. The back and forth between team principals Christian Horner and Toto Wolff of Red Bull and Mercedes can only be described with one word. Scalding.
The words that have been exchanged between the two, with even Dr. Helmut Marko chiming in as a Red Bull representative would have done little to mend the relationship between the two rivals. Almost every week, a new controversial statement was made from both camps.
Other team principals sat back and watched in awe as the top two teams took potshot after potshot at each other. This also fueled online vitriol from fans of both sides as well.
All in all, the 2021 season has been rather exhausting. However, now the question remains. Will Verstappen and Hamilton see an improvement in their attitudes towards each other now that the season has come to its dramatic (and controversial) conclusion?
What lies ahead?
While the 2021 season was entertaining, the bitterness between the two camps of fans was equally exhausting. One can only imagine the toll it would have taken on the two men who are directly in the centre of it all.
Since Lewis Hamilton has been awfully quiet ever since the controversial ending to the season in Abu Dhabi, it is quite difficult to gauge where he’s at with respect to his relationship with his Dutch counterpart.
Maybe, the two may be able to look back at this season and respect each other more for having survived the rollercoaster that 2021 proved to be. Maybe Hamilton will be even more motivated from the start of the next season.
Will the racing be hard but fair in Bahrain or will we see a repeat of the latter part of the 2021 season next year? Only time will tell. Till then, all we can do is look forward to another exciting year of Formula One soon to come.