Hamilton and Verstappen’s controversial first-lap collision grabbed the headlines from a dramatic British Grand Prix as F1 2021’s title protagonists had their first major on-track crash.
The pair came to blows at Copse as Hamilton tried to snatch the lead on the opening lap but tagged Verstappen, sending the Red Bull driver hurtling into a 51G impact with the barriers.
Hamilton later pulled off two clean passes on McLaren’s Lando Norris and Leclerc into the same corner during a remarkable fightback from a 10-second time penalty to claim his eighth British GP win.
“He was very respectful in terms of leaving a gap,” Hamilton said of his battle with Leclerc. “I got to be somewhere alongside him, he knew that I was there, but he stayed committed and just did a wider line and he nearly kept it. And that was really great racing.
“For me, in that moment, I backed out at one point just to make sure that we didn’t come together. But I think it was just a really nice balance and I think that’s really how the racing should go.
“Of course, in a perfect world, that’s what would have happened in the first attempt. But different time, different place, different driver.”
Leclerc did not turn into the apex of the corner as aggressively - providing Hamilton with more room going into Copse - before he ended up running completely wide at the exit and conceded the lead to Hamilton.
“I knew Lewis was in the inside, I left a space and unfortunately I think I had stayed in front but in the very end of the corner I got a snap and lost a little bit of time and then Lewis got in front of me,” the Monegasque explained.
Hamilton praised Leclerc’s drive as he appeared on course to hand Ferrari a surprise first victory in two years, only to be denied by the seven-time world champion with two laps to go.
“He did such a fantastic job today,” Hamilton said. "I honestly didn’t know at the beginning that we would be able to beat him.
“I thought I had good pace initially on the mediums but then Charles just started opening up the gap and putting in some fantastic laps. I could see that he wasn’t really managing so I was like ‘Jeez, he’s surely going to blister at some stage’, but he said they don’t blister so.
“Honestly Charles wasn’t on my mind when I came out [after the penalty], it was really trying to see if I could catch the car ahead, just one by one, and obviously I got the McLaren.
“I was chasing down Valtteri [Bottas] and he was so gracious today to work so well as a teammate to allow me to pass, so I could chase for the win for the team. That’s great sportsmanship, I really do appreciate it.
“Then I saw myself catching him but I was thinking ‘by the time I get to him my tyres would be finished at this pace’. But then I saw the back-markers and I realised that might create some opportunities, so I was like ‘I’ve got to catch him as soon as possible’ so that when I did catch him there would be opportunities to fight.
“Then my heart nearly stopped when I went up the inside in Turn 9, because I though the same thing was going to happen that happened to me and Max. I had to change my boxers after.”