By Alan Baldwin
SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) -Red Bull’s Formula One world championship leader Max Verstappen crashed out of the British Grand Prix on Sunday after colliding with Mercedes title rival Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap, with the race temporarily halted.
Stewards decided Hamilton had caused the collision and handed the seven-times world champion a 10 second penalty for his home race.
Verstappen stood unaided after the high-speed accident that pitched his car off at Copse corner, waving to fans before going for medical checks.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was leading when the red flags came out.
Verstappen had started on pole position on a sunny afternoon after winning an experimental Saturday sprint but he and Hamilton duelled through the opening corners before contact at the ninth.
Verstappen came across as the Mercedes driver tried to go past on the inside and the Red Bull’s rear right wheel hit Hamilton’s front left.
Such a clash had been seen coming as the title battle heats up, with Verstappen starting Sunday’s race 33 points clear of Hamilton after nine rounds, and the capacity crowd of some 140,000 gasped at the drama.
Crowd favourite Hamilton, the winner of a record seven British Grands Prix and most successful Formula One driver of all time, continued with a damaged car before pitting.
“I was ahead going in there. Pulling alongside, it was my line,” said the Briton over the team radio.
Red Bull disagreed in the strongest terms, calling race director Michael Masi to let him know their view of the incident and asking him to “deal with it appropriately”.
“Hamilton was never anywhere near alongside,” said team boss Christian Horner, who was relieved to see Verstappen walking away.
“Every driver that’s driven this circuit knows you do not stick a wheel up the inside of Copse.
“That’s an enormous accident and it was 100% Max’s corner. As far as I’m concerned, full blame lays on Hamilton, who should never have been in that position.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff sent an email to Masi and then got on the radio to the Australian before going to see the stewards with evidence of his own.
Aston Martin principal Otmar Szafnauer, who team use Mercedes engines, also came to the defence of Hamilton.
“I’ve watched it a few times now and to me, if that isn’t a racing incident, nothing is,” he told Sky Sports television.
“We’ve often talked about allowing the drivers to race over the first couple of laps for the benefit of the fans, and I think that’s what happened there. To me it was 50-50 there.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin;Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Christian Radnedge)