Kurt Verlin
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Verstappen Wins First F1 Sprint Race, Loses Big in Main Race

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Verstappen leads Hamilton at the start of the 2021 British Grand Prix
Photo: Honda
2021 British Grand Prix Results

The 2021 British Grand Prix held at the Silverstone circuit was preceded by Formula 1’s first-ever sprint race, which was used to determine the starting order for the main Sunday event (the sprint race’s starting order was decided by the usual qualifying sessions).

The introduction of sprint race qualifying has been controversial, as is the introduction of just about anything new in F1. It was entertaining enough but also didn’t seem to do or add anything significant to the sport that would warrant making it a permanent feature.

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Lewis Hamilton narrowly beat rival Max Verstappen to pole for that qualifying race, but the latter stole the lead when the lights went out and held on to it for the duration of the short, 17-lap sprint — ensuring he would be the one to start in front the next day and scoring an extra three championship points for good measure.

Hamilton’s start was better during the main race and led to the two drivers dueling for half of the first lap, all the way until the high-speed Copse corner, where Hamilton’s front left wheel made contact with Verstappen’s rear right wheel, sending the young Dutchman flying across the gravel and into the wall. The car suffered a 51 g impact and Verstappen, who was fortunately able to walk out of the wreck, was promptly sent to the hospital for examinations and an overnight stay.

The race stewards found Hamilton at fault for the incident and handed him a 10-second time penalty, which did little to get in his way of winning the race. The British superstar thus all but eliminated his disadvantage in the championship fight. He was 32 points down on Verstappen heading to his home Grand Prix. That gap is now just eight points.

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It’s too bad the two men crashed at Copse, because the first half of that first lap was some of the best wheel-to-wheel racing F1 has seen in a long time and could have been the setup for a very exciting British Grand Prix. Instead, the race turned into a question: “Will the 10-second penalty be enough to keep Hamilton from passing Charles Leclerc for the lead?”

As the Ferrari was simply nowhere near the pace of Hamilton’s car, the answer was fairly clearly “no,” to the delight of the local British fans and disappointment of just about everybody else. Many felt that Hamilton’s penalty was not severe enough given the damage he caused to Verstappen and to the Red Bull Racing team, which will have to spend millions of dollars in parts. It will also need to replace its Honda engine, which can potentially impact the championship as engine components are limited by the regulations.

All decisions or actions — in F1 and in life in general — should be judged based on the context in which they were made, not based on their outcome. It’s unfortunate that in this case, the outcome was so severely disproportionate to the action, and it was surely in poor taste that Hamilton would go on to profess how “proud” he was of a win that involved sending his main rival to the hospital — and even more surely inexcusable that Hamilton was then subjected to racist abuse — but the race stewards cannot be accused of having done Verstappen wrong this past Sunday.