Lewis Hamilton on the dangers of F1, his battle with Verstappen.
On the morning of the Met Gala, Lewis Hamilton’s plane arrived down in New York just as the sun was rising.
The seven-time Formula One world champion had endured a gruelling trip that was punctuated by on-board physio treatments to alleviate tightness in the muscles around his neck and upper back.
At the Italian Grand Prix, he barely avoided a serious injury when his championship challenger Max Verstappen’s vehicle crashed with his own and catapulted him over his head.
The halo on Hamilton’s Mercedes — a protective titanium hoop over the cockpit — was the final line of defence in keeping Verstappen’s right rear tyre from crushing Hamilton’s skull, according to footage from the collision.
Even with the halo in place, contact between the tyre and Hamilton’s helmet occurred,
forcing his head forward in the cockpit and stretching his neck and back muscles.
That fraction of a second as the tyre rolled over his head looked frightening frozen in a frame,
and Hamilton took a minute to put it all in perspective when he stepped foot on the opposite side of the Atlantic the next morning.
“I’m at a position in my life where I’m feeling a lot of gratitude, and I was thinking, wow, things can change so fast in life,
and anything can happen in a nanosecond,” he told ESPN ahead of the Russian Grand Prix this weekend.
“I was simply thankful to be there, to be healthy, and not to be in any worse condition.”
He had contemplated skipping the flight altogether,
cancelling his trip to New York and his Met Gala performance.
But Hamilton’s presence had been months in the planning,
and it was especially significant this year since he intended to use his booth to support three young Black designers who were attempting to break into the fashion business.
In the weeks leading up to the event, he’d been inspired by the designers’ backstories and ideas via Zoom conversations,
and he’d leveraged his relationship with Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor-in-chief,
to guarantee they had a table in the centre of the room for maximum exposure.
He wasn’t about to miss out on this vacation.
“The night following the accident, I spoke to one of my guys and said, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t go to this event,'” Hamilton said.
“‘If you really, truly don’t want to attend, it will be really sad for these people,
but I’m sure they can understand,’ they said. And I decided I didn’t want to disappoint them by having to cancel.
“So I looked at the steps I’d need to take to get there,
and I knew I’d need Angela [Cullen] (Hamilton’s personal physio) with me just in case things worsened or my back seized up even more over the following 12 hours.
As a result, Angela accompanied me to the airport and we worked on the trip there.
“My back and neck were still bandaged up, and I had checkups, physio, and acupuncture that day,
which helped to relieve a lot of the stress.
When I got to the Met, it was still a little tight,
but I was OK thanks to the anti-inflammatories, and I was simply like, ‘Let’s go!’
“Isn’t it simply a case of going with the flow?
“Anna was kind enough to offer us the room’s centre table, which was the most significant table in the room.”
And simply watching, watching, watching to see the responses and expressions on the faces of the designers surrounding me — they seemed so at ease.
For me, it was a very wonderful and proud moment.”
Hamilton’s detractors, notably rival team Red Bull’s senior adviser Helmut Marko,
have questioned the rationality of boarding a transatlantic aircraft the evening following an on-track accident. Marko suggested that Hamilton may have exaggerated the severity of his injuries for dramatic effect.
Hamilton claimed he didn’t see Verstappen’s car’s tyre make contact with his head at the moment,
but when the excitement wore off later in the evening, the agony became apparent.
“I didn’t say I was dying!” he said in response to Marko’s criticism on Thursday.
But, like with every major accident in Formula One, the collision with Verstappen served as a reminder of what is at risk at every race.
The worst potential repercussions of racing in Formula One are seldom spoken — the topic is generally forbidden — but Hamilton, at 36 years old and with a perspective on life that goes beyond the racetrack,
is unexpectedly frank about the matter.
“I would answer no, you didn’t think about it in my younger days,” he remarked. ”
You believe you’ll live forever when you’re young,
but I think now, of course, I’m more aware of it, which is why I’m more grateful.” When I was younger, I would not have been in that frame of mind.
“If you think about it a lot, it will obviously impact you, which I cannot allow. I still like what I’m doing, and I’m aware that there is a risk involved. I’m just glad the safety is where it is, and I know we’ll be increasing the safety next year, and the impact structures will continue to improve.
“However, I still have a lot to accomplish with my time here. After that, you must compartmentalise it. It’s something I’m aware of. That danger bubble has my respect, and it’s also thrilling.
“Since Monza, I’ve been itching to get back in the vehicle. I suppose if I don’t want to get back in the vehicle one day, I’ll know it’s time to quit. However, it does not seem to be there yet.”
‘I’ve always had a target on my back
When the Red Bull driver hit the curb at Monza’s famed first chicane, lost control,
and was catapulted over the Mercedes, Hamilton and Verstappen were battling for the same patch of tarmac.
After the race, the race stewards determined that Verstappen was “predominantly to a fault” for the incident,
and he has docked three positions for this week’s Russian Grand Prix.
However, the stewards’ judgement, which is based purely on the facts of the event, tells you nothing about the year-long background.
Verstappen was sent to hospital for precautionary tests after a 190 mph accident between the two drivers at the high-speed Copse turn during the British Grand Prix in July.
Hamilton accepted responsibility from the stewards at the time, incurring a time penalty in the race,
and was chastised by Verstappen for celebrating his victory in front of his home fans.
There were instances earlier this year in Spain, Portugal, and the opening race in Italy when Hamilton pulled out of wheel-to-wheel situations that might have easily resulted in a collision.
Clearly, neither driver is prepared to surrender an inch for fear of seeming weak,
but Hamilton is certain that his strategy of choosing his fights will payout in the end.
“Yes, I’ve had to pull out of some situations with Max because else we’d crash,
and I’m just like, ‘I’ll defeat him another way,'” he said. “‘If I can only get out of this corner,’ I reason, ‘I’ll challenge and battle him in a new manner, staying close, using strategy, and all these other things.’
“But that comes with experience, and I really hope that it pays off at the end of the year, but you must, of course, strike the proper balance. That’s exactly what I’m attempting.”
For those who have followed Verstappen’s career so far, his aggressive driving style is nothing new.
He’s been regarded as one of the toughest racers on the grid since his first season in 2015,
but it’s only since the start of 2021 that he’s had a vehicle capable of regularly competing with Hamilton’s Mercedes.
Despite two accidents and a few close calls so far this season, Hamilton believes Verstappen’s racing style is nothing new to him.
When asked how he can compete with a competitor who refuses to give up, he pointed to Fernando Alonso,
his first teammate in Formula One in 2007, as an example of a driver who works in a similar manner.
“Max isn’t the only person who has done anything like that,” Hamilton added. “My back has always been a target. Since I was a child, I’ve always been in the lead.
Even before I went into Formula One, I had No. 1 on my vehicle for a long time.
“Alonso, too, would never give up. So I’ve raced against a number of that kind of driver.
Some people are more intelligent than others, and I’m aware that there are more turns [later in the lap] and that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Some drivers are right up until it’s not right, and then they’re able to manage it, while others aren’t.
“I think the most important thing is to remain safe, because at the end of the year,
with all this excitement and this championship, all we want to see is people going home to their families and having a nice winter.”
Hamilton called Verstappen after the Silverstone accident to talk about the situation one-on-one and clarify that he had no idea Verstappen was in hospital when he celebrated his victory.
According to both parties’ stories, the conversation did nothing to alter either driver’s emotions about the accident,
and Hamilton decided not to offer another olive branch after Monza.
He responded on Thursday, “No, we haven’t talked.” “I haven’t heard from him,
and I did contact him after the Silverstone race, but I don’t believe we need to… racing is racing, and we go on.
“I’m sure he’ll benefit from the experience, just as I will.
I can’t expect things to change, so all I can do now is try to apply myself better, and that’s all I have control over in my area.”
‘You always want to win the right way.
Despite reports of a rivalry between the two drivers and speculation about what would happen next,
Hamilton maintains that he and Verstappen have no bad blood.
“I don’t feel like it’s changed,” he said when asked how he would characterize his relationship with Verstappen this year.
“It’s tough because when you’re with people and you’re in unpleasant situations, and they’re around you, they’re one way with you and they’re another when you’re not there.”
“Whenever Max and I have met one other after the race,
whether he is first or last, I have always tried to be polite.” I constantly make an effort to make my way over to him, and it makes no difference to me.
Of course, we sat in the stewards’ office the other day,
and it wasn’t antagonistic; he presented his case, and I presented mine.
“I named him after Silverstone, but I’m not trying to be patronizing,
but I’m a lot older than he is.” I’m a lot older, so calling and being able to break the ice was crucial for me.
“At 25, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish it.” I don’t have any animosity against him.
“I think he’s a fantastic talent, and I’m having fun racing with him.”
Is everything he does something I agree with? It makes no difference.
“What counts is that he does himself and learns,
and all I have control over is what I do and how I deal with situations.”
“Whatever happens at the end of the year, we’ll shake hands and come back to battle again the following year.”
However, the issue of what will happen next remains unanswered in this tournament.
Both drivers have lost points at different rounds, both drivers have pulled off miraculous victories elsewhere,
and both drivers have crashed on the track while attempting to gain an advantage.
Despite this, after 14 races, just five points separate them in the drivers’ standings.
Hamilton has only won one race in the last ten, but he is the obvious favorite to win the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday, while Verstappen and Red Bull have chosen to forego their three-place grid penalty and install a brand-new engine,
which would automatically send Verstappen to the bottom of the field.
With seven races remaining, a victory on Sunday would put Hamilton in the lead in the championship, putting him one step closer to a historic ninth world crown.
But, above all, Hamilton says he wants a fair battle, regardless of the outcome.
He is certain that a title-deciding accident at the season’s last race,
which has occurred many times in Formula One’s history, would be avoided at all costs.
“There will never be any doubt about it,” he said emphatically. “I’d never want to win like that.”
“Even if you don’t win, at least you’ll have your dignity.” I wouldn’t want to win any other way; the proper way is always the best way to win.
“I love racing, I love competing for the title,
and that’s what I’ve been working for at the end of the year, so you can’t claim you won’t be unhappy if you don’t accomplish what you’re trying to do with the group you’re trying to win it with.”
“However, I can’t forget all the good things that have occurred.”
There are many things to take away from this year, and I believe there will be more in the future. It’s been a nightmare of a year.”