Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s low-level war of words crossed continents from Bahrain to China ahead of this weekend’s grand prix in Shanghai
The pair had a coming-together on lap two of the Bahrain Grand Prix as Verstappen attempted to relieve Hamilton of 10th place, but the Dutchman understeered into the Briton in the process, pushing the Mercedes off the track and puncturing his own rear-left tyre.
The damage to the car as Verstappen limped it home was severe enough to force his retirement, but Hamilton survived to charge to third place.
In the cool-down room before the podium ceremony Hamilton glimpsed a replay of the footage, muttering that Verstappen was a “dickhead”, but his comments were picked up by television cameras and subsequently became a minor point of titillation.
“Honestly I don’t really remember it,” Hamilton said when asked about it in the post-race press conference a short time later, but he went on to defend his language.
“I had a coming together with Max and it was an unnecessary collision. There needs to be a certain respect between drivers, and ultimately … it didn’t feel like a respectful manoeuvre.
“Ultimately it was a silly manoeuvre for himself, because he didn’t finish the race — and obviously he’s tending to make quite a few mistake recently.”
Asked about Hamilton’s reaction in the Thursday press conference, Max Verstappen stood by his driving.
“I don’t think I did anything wrong in terms of my approach. I was just trying to overtake a car,” he said. “I think it was a fair chance. I went for it.
“It’s racing; it’s very simple. I don’t understand why everybody is so on top of the topic. Those things happen in racing, you know.”
“It’s quite easy and simple to blame the younger driver. That’s the only way I can see it.
“Like I said, these things happen. There’s no reason for me to change anything.”
But despite the controversy’s apparent will to persist, Hamilton had cooled substantially by the time he arrived in Shanghai and reconciled with the Dutchman in the paddock.
“Just as we were just signing just now, I just shook his hand and I was like, ‘Look I’m sorry about the last race’,” he said on Thursday evening. “Regardless of if it is his fault or my fault, it’s in the past.
“As we all know, he’s such a talented driver — jeez, I mean, I was in the same place when I was young, similar age, or older, actually.
“He’s going to have some great races and he’s going to have bad races, just as I will do today, even though I’m much older than him.”
But perhaps the last word goes to Sebastian Vettel despite the German not being involved in the on-track tangle in any way.
Vettel, interrupting a question to Hamilton about where he thought his language had been appropriate in the cool-down room, said it was unfair that drivers were subject to this level of scrutiny immediately after jumping out of the car.
“We’ve all been in that situation,” he said. “We fight someone, we go sometimes wheel-to-wheel, it’s close and you have a lot of adrenaline going.
“So I don’t think it’s justified to give us these kinds of shit questions and making up a story out of nothing if we are just racing and we are full of adrenalin and sometimes we say these things.
“Sometimes I feel it’s all a bit blown up and artificial if we have these questions, trying to make a story out of nothing.”