Lewis Hamilton vs Max Verstappen: The F1 2021 clashes so far as next battle looms at Russian GP

21 September 2021, 09:55 | Updated: 22 September 2021, 11:05

Formula 1 had long been waiting for a genuine championship battle between its most successful driver and rising superstar; and 2021 has delivered aplenty with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen locked in a close and increasingly intense duel.

The dramatic Italian GP crash was the pair's second in just five races but, in truth, there have been many other flashpoints between the drivers who are split by just five points in the standings ahead of the Russian GP.

Here's how one of F1's greatest modern title rivalries has escalated over the season...

  • F1 drivers' chief: Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen likely to crash again
  • Russian GP schedule this weekend, live on Sky Sports F1
  • Who will be F1's champion? Analysing Lewis vs Max and run-in

Emilia-Romagna GP: Verstappen bumps Hamilton off track

Setting the scene, and the incident
Hamilton and Verstappen laid the groundwork for a marvellous championship fight in the Bahrain season-opener, where they battled wheel-to-wheel, fairly and respectfully, until the closing laps with the Mercedes driver eventually holding off his charging rival. But in the very next race, they made contact which, albeit minor, was a sign of things to come and highlighted their mentalities.

It occurred at a damp Imola for the Emilia-Romagna GP, and at the first corner despite Verstappen starting two grid places behind the pole-sitting Hamilton. Verstappen got a much better start than Hamilton and team-mate Sergio Perez, and quickly pulled up behind, and then alongside, the Mercedes.

Verstappen moved his Red Bull to the left of Hamilton, meaning he would initially have the inside for the opening quick left-right Tamburello chicane. They were neck and neck going into the corner but Verstappen both held onto the inside, and forced Hamilton wide by braking later than probably advisable in the wet conditions.

Forced out of position for the right-hander, Hamilton then took to the sausage kerbs to avoid what could have been a big collision with Verstappen, who sped through to take the lead. There was, however, still contact between the cars as Hamilton rejoined the track, with the Briton losing a part of his front-wing endplate.

It was a typically opportunistic, and rather aggressive, move from Verstappen, and a clear sign of intent.

The end result, and what was said
Told of the contact after the race, which Verstappen went on to win ahead of Hamilton, the Dutchman said he was not aware they even touched - although Hamilton had certainly noted his rival's move.

"Max got a better start than me and then I think I was slightly ahead going into turn two but I was basically avoiding us coming together," said Hamilton. "Max was just coming and coming and coming across.

"Of course, we had that touch and I had to use the exit, take those big kerbs but I'm grateful I just got it through it."

Spanish GP: 'Aggressive' Max wrestles lead off Lewis again

Setting the scene, and the incident
Hamilton and Verstappen continued their streak of wheel-to-wheel battles to start the season at the Portuguese GP, before F1 2021 sped on to Spain, where the championship rivals were together on the front row once again.

This time, they appeared to have equally good starts - although Verstappen quickly moved his Red Bull from the right of the track to the left to gain a slipstream from Hamilton's pole-sitting Mercedes.

That pulled him closer to Hamilton, although the seven-time champion was still just ahead heading into Turn 1. Verstappen, though, got his elbows out and forced his car down the inside of the right-hander, perhaps taking Hamilton a little by surprise and again forcing him a bit wide.

Once again, Hamilton backed out of the move, and ceded position, to just barely avoid a crash, while Verstappen carried his momentum through to lead into the Turn 2 left-hander.

The end result, and what was said
Hamilton was rewarded for his patience on this occasion, eventually hunting down Verstappen for the lead and race win at Barcelona. Afterwards, he gave insight into his mentality in those Turn 1 altercations while also, tellingly, hinted at an "aggressive" Verstappen.

"I just made sure I gave as much space as I could to Max," stated Hamilton.

"In my mind, it's always a marathon, not a sprint, so I'm just always thinking the long game and sure, you could be a little bit more aggressive. Do I need to? Well, I'm in the position that I'm in because I don't get too aggressive when I don't need to be."

British GP: Rivalry ignites with high-speed crash, Hamilton penalised

Setting the scene, and the incident
Verstappen had all the title momentum heading to Hamilton's home ground of Silverstone, winning four of the last five races and three in a row - including at the French GP where Hamilton was accused of an "unusual" and "soft" defence of the lead from Verstappen by Sky F1's Nico Rosberg.

On a revamped British GP weekend where qualifying would set the grid for the first-ever F1 Sprint, Hamilton, armed with Mercedes upgrades, secured a front-of-the-grid start for Saturday's mini race ahead of Verstappen - but was quickly out-dragged into the first corner after a poor getaway. With much more straight-line speed, Hamilton attempted to hit back at Verstappen, first around the outside of Brooklands, and then at the high-speed Copse. But Verstappen managed to fend him off, leading into that corner and holding his line. He would go on to secure pole for Sunday's race.

Cue even more drama, and a collision that well and truly ignited the Hamilton-Verstappen rivalry.

Hamilton got a better start this time, and was alongside Verstappen into Turn 1. But Verstappen stayed ahead. He then had much more speed down the Wellington Straight into Brooklands, and forced his Mercedes ahead of Verstappen on the outside of the corner. But again, Verstappen stayed ahead - this time with a bit of wheel-banging between the pair.

Then came the run down the old pit straight through to Copse, and it was already clear both drivers were not going to be backing down.

Verstappen kept a similar line to the previous day, seemingly eager to force Hamilton around the outside of what is a fully-flat, 190mph, corner. But this time Hamilton edged his car to the right of Verstappen's, in a small gap to the inside. With such little space and at such high speed, both cars were going to struggle to get through the corner unless one driver backed out - and that did not happen.

Verstappen was still just in the lead and attempted to take the right-hander but in doing so, his rear right tyre clipped Hamilton's front left, and the Dutchman went careering off into the barriers, heavily shunting out of the race. Hamilton and Verstappen had crashed for the first time.

The end result, and what was said
Hamilton was judged to be "predominantly at fault" for the incident by race stewards and was handed a 10-second time penalty, which he served in his pit-stop at Silverstone. But the home favourite overcame that penalty and still managed to win the race, all the while Verstappen was left with zero points and a trip to hospital for precautionary checks.

His title lead cut from 33 to just eight points, Verstappen and Red Bull were incensed.

Team boss Christian Horner labelled Hamilton's move "unacceptable", "dangerous" and "desperate", while Verstappen, posting on social media from hospital as he said he was "OK" following the crash, said: "Obviously very disappointed with being taken out like this. The penalty given does not help us in any way and doesn't do justice to the dangerous move Lewis made on track.

"Watching the celebrations after the race while still in hospital is disrespectful and unsportsmanlike behaviour."

There was obviously now plenty of bad blood in this rivalry.

Protesting his innocence, Hamilton once again called Verstappen "too aggressive".

"I just don't feel like he needs to be as aggressive as he is," said Hamilton. "We are going down to Turn Six and he's bumping wheels with me. I was quite a long way up the inside into Nine and none of us backed out and that was the end result.

"I've managed for a long time without colliding with someone but when someone is just too aggressive these things are bound to happen."

Italian GP: Both drivers out after another crash, Verstappen the offender

Setting the scene, and the incident
Another F1 Sprint weekend, more Hamilton-Verstappen fireworks.

Verstappen had lost and then regained his title lead to Hamilton between Silverstone and Monza, but only held a three-point advantage heading into the Italian GP. That became a five-point buffer after the Sprint, as Verstappen finished second behind Valtteri Bottas, while Hamilton was made to rue a poor start in a much faster Mercedes, placing fifth.

Verstappen and Hamilton's grid positions became first and fourth for Sunday's race thanks to Bottas' penalty, although Verstappen was, critically, overtaken for the lead by the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo - and then could not get back past.

He was still comfortably ahead of Hamilton ahead of his first stop, but the title protagonists were then sent on the very definition of a collision course via some awful pit-stops, with Verstappen held for 11 seconds and then Hamilton four.

As Hamilton exited the pits, Verstappen was charging up the pit-straight. The pair were going to enter the opening slow right-left chicane at an almost identical time. We know what happened next.

Hamilton edged his car over to the left for the right-hander, attempting to cover off Verstappen and force him to the outside. Verstappen was now almost alongside Hamilton, and he was given just enough room through that first corner, but was then, in his words, "squeezed" by Hamilton for the tight left hander, which Verstappen now had the inside line for.

It was at this point where Verstappen could have bailed out of the move completely, turning left over the rumble strips as other drivers had done during the race. But Max instead chose to fight it out, trying to keep his car on the inside.

Hamilton, still technically ahead, did not pull out either and probably expected his rival to, just as he himself had on the first lap at Monza when they battled at the second chicane. There was very little space for two cars to fit, and from there, there was only going to be one outcome: another crash between Verstappen and Hamilton, as the Red Bull went clattering into the Mercedes.

This time, both drivers were sent out of the race and there was also a dangerous end to this clash despite the slower speeds compared to Silverstone. Verstappen's car bounced over the sausage kerbs before his right rear tyre clipped Hamilton's rear left and flung into the air, rotating slightly before landing on top of Hamilton's. Thankfully, Hamilton's halo protection device absorbed the impact, remaining intact as the underside of the Red Bull crumpled upon making contact with it.

The end result, and what was said
In the immediate aftermath, Red Bull, this time the accused rather than the accusers, stressed their belief that this crash was a "racing incident", while Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said he felt Verstappen had committed a "tactical foul" as Hamilton was ahead of him on track and had a chance of taking back his title lead.

The stewards deliberated long and hard about this collision - with a time penalty no longer an option as both drivers were out of the race - and decided on punishing Verstappen. It was a similar verdict to Silverstone, and a similar penalty in the circumstances. Verstappen was "predominantly to blame", and handed a three-place grid penalty for the next F1 race, this weekend's Russian GP.

"He just didn't want to give way today," said Hamilton, who struggled with neck pain after being clipped by one of Verstappen's tyres in the incident. "He knew when he was going into Turn 2 what was going to happen, he knew he was going over the kerb but still did it."

Verstappen protested: "I didn't expect him to just keep on squeezing, squeezing, squeezing, because he didn't even need to. He just kept on pushing me wider and wider and at one point there was nowhere to go.

"You need two people to work together to make a corner."

Since then, Hamilton and indeed much of the paddock have predicted the pair may well collide again before their fierce title battle is over.

There are eight races left in the season, starting with this weekend's Russian GP. Let battle, recommence.