Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen crashing into each other while battling for the lead on the first lap of Sunday’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone was  a seismic moment in their world championship fight.

The first major coming together between Hamilton and Verstappen opened the door for the seven-time world champion to strike back in the title race and cut the Red Bull driver’s advantage down to just eight points.

But will Silverstone be a one-off, or is it gloves off and all-out war? Our F1 writers have their say…

More clashes feel inevitable as title fight hots up  

While the debate rumbles on over who was to blame and whether the penalty dished out was just, one thing is clear; both Hamilton and Verstappen underlined that they are not willing to back down to each other.

Previous near-misses avoided a full-blown collision due to a common theme - Hamilton backing out. At Imola and Spain, it felt as though 2021’s title protagonists were on course for disaster, but on both occasions Hamilton ensured major contact was avoided by easing off. 

At that early stage of the season, all was respectful and fair with both drivers evenly matched across the first handful of races. However, Red Bull has since taken a step forward in performance and the title fight had been going in Verstappen’s favour. 

Hamilton needed to respond at Silverstone and considering he was 33 points behind Verstappen at the time they were wheel-banging for the lead - having suffered a frustrating defeat the day before in sprint qualifying - the Mercedes driver had to take an opportunity when one presented itself. 

For Hamilton, something simply needed to change. Having witnessed Verstappen gradually extend his championship advantage over the course of the last five races, he had to start getting his elbows out. Sitting behind Verstappen and taking more steps back was no longer an option given that Red Bull appears to have the stronger overall package. 

Verstappen was evidently angry at Hamilton in his social media post from his hospital bed, while Hamilton stated after the race that he will not allow himself to be ‘bullied’ by the Dutchman’s aggressive nature.

There is no doubt the dynamic between Hamilton and Verstappen has changed following the British GP, but exactly how it shifts will be fascinating to follow in the coming races. F1 2021 was already an intense battle, but the stakes have just been raised even further. 

It is hard to shake the feeling that the situation is delicately poised and on the verge of boiling over into a bitter rivalry. Will this end up being the modern-day equivalent of Ayrton Senna versus Alain Prost, or will it just be a flash in the pan?

How Hamilton and Verstappen respond the next time they find themselves going wheel-to-wheel will have hugely important ramifications for the rest of the year.

Lewis Larkam

Hamilton’s track record suggests it’s a one-off

When comparing Hamilton to the true greats of our sport - Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna or even Sebastian Vettel - you could easily make the argument that he is one of F1’s most respectful and cleanest world champions. When he was battling Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa or Sebastian Vettel over the years for title glory, the on-track battles were often clean and respectful.

Nico Rosberg is perhaps the only exception but given the personal history between the pair, the fact they were teammates and more often than not, the incidents that they did have were usually Rosberg’s fault, rather than Hamilton’s. Generally, Hamilton’s track record when battling his title rivals or battling at the front has been exemplary.

When you’ve participated in as many grands prix and won as many races as Hamilton has in his illustrious F1 career, incidents are always going to happen. When you compare Hamilton to Schumacher for example - Australia 1994 with Damon Hill; Jerez 1997 with Jacques Villeneuve - there is no comparison or question of the British driver’s track conduct or sportsmanship.

However, it is important to acknowledge that the dynamic between Hamilton and Verstappen is different to that of his former rivals. We’ve seen throughout 2021 that Verstappen has had the upper hand in wheel-to-wheel combat.

The Dutchman pushed Hamilton over the kerbs at Imola, while in Barcelona, Hamilton couldn’t turn in as Verstappen aggressively lunged into the first corner. Spurred on by his home fans, it’s not a surprise Hamilton went for the move at Copse.

Verstappen’s being his number one competitor for this year’s title is a significant factor but the 23-year-old simply is the stiffest test Hamilton has faced in his F1 career, perhaps Fernando Alonso in 2007 aside. Verstappen is ultra-aggressive, resilient, and consistent, and as we saw on Sunday, he won’t back down.

In wheel-to-wheel combat, Hamilton often had the likes of Massa, Rosberg, Vettel and more recently, Valtteri Bottas, kept at arm's length - he knew how to deal with them on-track with ease. Verstappen is a generational talent and Hamilton knows that this combined with Red Bull’s small pace advantage, he needs to maximise every opportunity.

Hamilton has often spoken about how aggressive Verstappen is on track  - and that is certainly true, but on Sunday Hamilton made a clear statement to his main foe that he is prepared not to back down either - he wasn't going to back off as he did earlier on in the season.

What happens in future rounds is unclear. Hamilton’s history shows similar incidents are not as likely but given that Verstappen is nothing like what he’s faced before, we could be set for more fireworks before the season’s end in December.

Connor McDonagh