Lewis Hamilton has turned his fire on Max Verstappen’s Orange Army, telling them it is ‘mind-blowing’ they cheered as he crashed at 140mph during qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix.
That was on Friday evening, as the seven-time world champion lost the rear end of his Mercedes and careered right-side first into the tyre barrier. He sat in the cockpit for a while before climbing out unhurt.
But the glee with which his misfortune was met was a reminder he is in enemy territory. Some 60,000 orange-clad fans have made the journey here in cars, campers and caravans from Holland to support Verstappen. The Red Bull Ring is a 12-hour drive from Amsterdam, but distance has hardly deterred the diehards among the 105,000 crowd.
They were rewarded for their devotion by seeing their man win Saturday’s sprint, and secure pole for Sunday’s feature race. Hamilton was eighth, but only after taking on his spare chassis following the accident of the previous evening and then fighting his way up from 11th after a minor collision on lap one.
Speaking for the first time about the bigger smash, Hamilton said: ‘I didn’t hear they were cheering at the time of the crash. I was going through a bunch of stuff, but I heard it afterwards and I don’t agree with any of that, no matter what.
‘A driver could have been in hospital, and you are going to cheer that? It is mind-blowing that people would do that, knowing how dangerous our sport is.
‘I was grateful I didn’t end up in hospital and I wasn’t heavily injured. You should never cheer someone’s downfall or someone’s injury. It shouldn’t have happened at Silverstone and it shouldn’t have happened here.’
Hamilton was referring to last weekend’s British Grand Prix, where Verstappen was booed after taking pole. Now the clog is on the other foot.
As for the sprint, it was a decent affair. Some stick-in-the-muds decry the format, but moving qualifying to Friday enlivens that day, with the sprint a bonus that enriches Saturday. It also potentially mixes up the grand prix grid — all on merit rather than due to reverse-grid gimmickry. What is not to like? Formula One should seriously think about staging a sprint at every round, perhaps with a few tweaks, such as going up from one-third of the grand prix length to half-distance and/or introducing one stop.
Anyway, Verstappen won fairly comfortably from the front once he withstood the opening-lap charge of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. The eight points he secured extended his lead over Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez to 38 and over Charles Leclerc in the other red car to 44.
Perez, by the way, drove superbly. He was forceful but measured in moving from 13th to finish fifth, three places behind Leclerc and one behind Mercedes’ George Russell. As for Ferrari, what on earth are they doing?
On Saturday, there were some hairy moments as their two men duelled and, as at Silverstone, you wonder why they are not throwing everything behind Leclerc, their No 1, who started second compared to Sainz’s third.
Now to Hamilton’s opening-lap incident in the sprint. Sandwiched between Williams’s Alex Albon and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, he clipped the latter. ‘I got a bit of wheelspin. I was under attack from the cars around me. Pierre moved over on me so I had nowhere to go.’
Hamilton continued, went past Albon and his old team-mate Val-tteri Bottas’s Alfa Romeo. He then went wheel-to-wheel with Haas’s Mick Schumacher lap after lap until the Briton finally forced his way through just before the end.
‘I was so lucky to get round the first lap. I am grateful to have finished and get one point.’
Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel was handed a suspended £21,000 fine for walking out of Friday’s drivers’ briefing in a fit of pique during a to-and-fro over track limits.
The Aston Martin driver, who was punted into the gravel by Alex Albon during the sprint race, was called to the stewards last night.
He had already apologised to race director Niels Wittich.
The stewards said: ‘Vettel left the meeting without permission, expressing frustration. Drivers are not free to leave when they want. At this level they are role models for every driver around the world.’