Italian Grand Prix: Damon Hill accuses Max Verstappen of deliberate crash into Lewis Hamilton
Daniel Ricciardo claimed McLaren’s first victory in almost nine years on another afternoon of high drama at Monza’s Temple of Speed. Lando Norris, 21, took a career-best second as McLaren secured a fairytale one-two finish. Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas drove from last to third.
Ricciardo’s superb lights-to-flag victory, however, was overshadowed by yet another flashpoint in this most remarkable of Formula One seasons.
It arrived on lap 26 of 53. Pole-sitter Verstappen, running in a net-fourth position – after he was beaten to the opening bend by Ricciardo followed by a woeful 11-second pit-stop – saw Hamilton emerge from the pits ahead of him. With Verstappen arriving for the Variante Del Rettifilo at 225mph, Hamilton, still getting up to speed, moved to his left to cover off his rival – but the Dutchman refused to down tools.
Verstappen ran out of room, on to the kerbs, and into Hamilton’s Mercedes – the floor of his Red Bull crushing his rival’s machine. Both men were out of the race and Verstappen retained his five-point championship lead.
Hamilton and Verstappen were summoned to the stewards at 5.15pm. At 6.41pm, the verdict was out – Verstappen was “predominantly to blame”. A three-place grid penalty at the Russian Grand Prix on September 26 and two penalty points his punishment.
“Looking at the replay of Max on Lewis, there was no way he was going to make that work,” said Hill, the 1996 world champion.
“The only conclusion is he might have been thinking ‘I have to take him out’. I don’t want to think that of any driver, but I think it was either an error of judgement or a calculated move to collide with Lewis.
“It is strong and I don’t like the idea that I’m accusing anyone of doing that, but he’s got a points advantage and this was a race which Mercedes was supposed to win.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes boss, Toto Wolff, was also critical of Verstappen.“One could see it as a tactical foul,” said Wolff.
“We don’t want to have situations in the future where one takes the other out, to avoid losing.”
The crash arrived just nine weeks after Hamilton’s opening-lap collision with Verstappen at Silverstone. Hamilton served a 10-second punishment but won the race.
Verstappen’s afternoon ended in the barriers and then hospital where he was treated with concussion.
In the immediate aftermath of their accident here, Verstappen stormed away from his cockpit without checking on Hamilton’s well-being, despite his Red Bull machine resting on his rival’s car.
“I saw Max get out and walk by and I found that surprising,” said Hamilton, who will seek the advice of doctors to determine if he is fit to race in Sochi.
“As drivers, when we do have incidents, we normally want to make sure the other guy is okay.
“But the good thing is I was able to get out. We live to fight another day.”
Defending his apparent snub, Verstappen, 23, said: “Lewis was fine. He was trying to reverse when I got out of the car. If you are not fine you don’t do that.
“Under braking, he moved to the left. I went around the outside, and he just kept on slowly leaving me without space, squeezing me, and I had to take the kerb. Unfortunately we touched. It was unnecessary.”
Hamilton, now with just one victory in his last 10 appearances, hinted that the rules need to be re-written to tackle Verstappen’s no-holds barred approach.
“There is a point in which you have to concede, go across the run-off, and I am not sure why Max didn’t.
“This will continue, but we have to learn from our scenarios on track. I don’t have a history of these incidents and when you get away with things, you just continue to do it.
“We do need to look into this so the right decisions are being made. Nobody wants to see anyone get injured. If we put better protocols in maybe we can avoid this sort of stuff in the future.”
Ricciardo profited from the crash with his lead unchallenged. The safety car was deployed for four laps after Hamilton and Verstappen collided, but the Australian delivered the perfect restart to lay the foundations for his eighth win, and first since 2018.
Norris pulled off a gutsy move on the inside of Charles Leclerc at Curva Grande to secure a remarkable one-two finish for Britain’s most successful Formula One team.
McLaren’s victory comes eight years, nine months and 18 days after Jenson Button won in Interlagos – Hamilton’s last race for McLaren before he moved to Mercedes.