Lewis Hamilton on the dangers of F1, his battle with Verstappen and the importance of winning 'the right way'

On the morning of the Met Gala, the sun was barely rising when Lewis Hamilton's plane touched down in New York. The seven-time Formula One world champion had had a difficult flight, with a few physio sessions on board to ease tension in his neck and upper back.
He was almost in danger of serious injury after his title rival Max Verstappen's car collided with his and he was thrown over his head at Grand Prix italy 24 hours earlier. The accident footage showed that the halo of his Mercedes -- a titanium hoop over the cockpit -- was the final barrier to prevent Verstappen’s right rear tire from crushing Hamilton's head.

Hamilton was able to make contact with the tyre even though the halo was doing its job. He pushed his head forward into the cockpit, and extended his neck and back muscles. Hamilton took a moment to reflect on all that happened in the fraction of a second when the tyre was rolling over his head.

Since the accident in Monza, Lewis Hamilton has been suffering stiffness in his neck. ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images

He said that he was in a place in his life where he felt a lot gratitude. This is before the Russian Grand Prix. "I felt truly grateful to be here, to be healthy, and not be in worse condition."

He considered skipping the flight, leaving New York for New York and cancelling his Met Gala appearance. His attendance was months in the planning and had extra significance for Hamilton as he intended to use his table at this event to promote three young Black designers who are trying to break into the fashion industry.

He had been inspired by the stories and ideas of the designers during Zoom calls weeks prior to the event. He had also used his friendship with Anna Wintour (Vogue's editor-in-chief) to make sure they had a table at the center of the room for maximum visibility. He was determined to make it a successful trip.

Hamilton recalled the night after the accident, saying that Hamilton had spoken to one of his friends and suggested that he perhaps shouldn't go. They said, "If you really, truly don't want it to be, it will really sad for these people, but I'm sure that they can understand." I decided that I didn't want them to cancel.

"So I looked into what steps were required to attend. Angela [Cullen], Hamilton's personal physician] was to accompany me in case my back got worse or my back became more swollen over the next 12 hour. Angela joined me on the flight and we did some work together.

"My neck and back were still taped, and I went to the physio and acupuncture clinic that day. This relieved a lot of tension. Although it was tighter than usual when I got to the Met, I was fine with the anti-inflammatories. I was ready to go.

"You have to just go with it.

Lewis Hamilton at The Met Gala Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images For The Met Museum/Vogue

"Anna was so kind to give us the center table in the space, so it was the highest priority table in that room. Just watching the reactions of the designers around me and watching the faces -- they seemed so in their element. It was a very proud moment for me."

Hamilton's critics have questioned the logic of taking a transatlantic flight after an on-track collision. Helmut Marko (the senior advisor to Red Bull), suggested that Hamilton may have overplayed his injuries to dramatic effect.

Hamilton claimed that he didn't notice Verstappen’s car's tyre touching his head at the moment, but the adrenaline began to dilue later in the evening and the pain began to surface.

Concerning Marko's criticism, Marko said on Thursday that he didn't mean to say he was dying. ".

As is the case in every major F1 accident, the collision with Verstappen was an example of the stakes at every grand prix. F1 drivers rarely talk about the worst possible outcomes of racing -- it is often taboo. But Hamilton, 36 years old and with a view on life that goes beyond the track, is surprising open to the topic.

He says, "I would have to say that in my younger years, no, you didn’t think about it." "You think you will live forever when you're young. But I now realize that I am more aware of this, which is why my gratitude was greater. It's unlikely that I would have been in that space when I was younger.

Lewis Hamilton: F1 dangers: "You must compartmentalise them." Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

"If you think about it too much, it can cause you to be unhappy and that is something I cannot allow. It's something I love, but I also know that there are dangers. I think it's a blessing that safety exists. I also know that we will continue to improve the safety structures and safety.

"But, I still have so many things to do with my time. It is necessary to separate it. It's something I am aware of. It's exciting and I respect the danger bubble.

"I have been so excited to get back into the car since Monza. If I feel like I don't want the car anymore, I know it's time for me to get out of the way. It doesn't seem there yet.

"I have always had a target in my back"

Max Verstappen's car was lifted into the air and landed on Lewis Hamilton's. Peter Van Egmond/Getty Images

Hamilton and Verstappen were fighting for the same piece of asphalt when Red Bull's driver crashed into the kerb at Monza’s famous first chicane. He lost control and was thrown over the Mercedes. The race stewards determined that Verstappen was the "predominantly responsible" for the collision, and handed him a three place grid penalty for the Russian Grand Prix. The decision of the race stewards, though based only on the incident, does not reveal the background story that has been unfolding all year.

Verstappen was hospitalized in July after a collision at high speed Copse corner between Hamilton and Verstappen of 190 mph. Hamilton was the one to blame and received a time penalty. Verstappen was critical of Hamilton's celebration after he won in front his home crowd.

You can go back further in the year to see examples in Spain, Portugal, and the first race of the Italian Grand Prix in which Hamilton pulled out of wheel-to–wheel moments that could have easily led to a collision. Hamilton is confident that his strategy of choosing his battles will pay off, even though neither driver wants to show weakness.

He said, "Yes, Max, I have had to back out from certain situations because otherwise we will crash. And I'm just like I'll beat him by another way." "I believe that if I can survive this corner, I will challenge Max and fight him in another way. Stay close, use strategy, and do all the different things.

"But that comes from experience and I really hope that it pays dividends at end of year. But of course, you have to find the right balance. This is what I really want to do.

For those who have been following Verstappen's career, the aggressive driving style of Verstappen is not new. He has been a hard racer since 2015, his debut season. But it has only been since 2021 that Verstappen has had a car capable to take on Hamilton's Mercedes every day.

Hamilton says Verstappen's racing style is not new to him, despite two near misses and two collisions this season. When asked how he could compete with his rival, Hamilton referred to Fernando Alonso, his first F1 teammate in 2007, as a driver who operates in a similar manner.

Hamilton stated that Max is not the only one like it. Hamilton said, "I have always had a target at my back. Since I was young, I have always been at the forefront. For many years, I had No.1 on the car before I was able to enter Formula One.

"Even Alonso wouldn't give up. That's why I raced against many drivers who do this. Some drivers are more intelligent than others, and I know there are other corners later in the lap. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Some drivers get it right up to the point where it's not right, and they can control it. Others don't.

"I think the most important thing is to stay safe. Because at the end, with all the excitement and this championship the only thing we want at the end is for people to go home to their families and have a great winter."

Hamilton called Verstappen after the Silverstone crash to talk about the matter one-on-one and to clarify that Verstappen was still in hospital at the time he celebrated his win. According to both drivers, the call did not change their feelings about the collision. Hamilton decided against giving Monza another olive branch.

He said that he had not spoken to him since Thursday. "I haven’t heard from him, and of course, I called him up after Silverstone race, but I don’t think we need... it’s racing, so we move on.

"I know that he will learn as much from this experience as I did. It's impossible to expect things to change so I'll just do my best to be better in the future.

"You want to win in the right way."

Lewis Hamilton pours champagne on Max Verstappen, the Dutch Grand Prix winner. Getty Images via ANP Sport

Hamilton insists that there are no bad blood between him and Verstappen, despite headlines about a feud among the drivers.

When asked how he felt about his relationship with Verstappen, he replied: "I don’t feel like it’s changed. It’s difficult because when people are around you, they are one-way with you, and they are different when they are not around you.

"Me and Max. When we have met after the race, I have always tried my best to respect his position. It doesn't feel different to me to always make sure that I approach him. We sat down in the stewards office the other day, and it was not hostile. He gave his view, and I offered mine.

"I called him after Silverstone. But, again, I'm not trying to be patronizing, but I am much more senior. I am much older, so it was important to me to call him and to be able break the ice.

"I would not have been able that when I was 25. I have no hostilities against him.

"I believe he is a great talent. I enjoy racing with him. Are you sure that I agree with everything he says? It doesn't even matter.

"It doesn't matter what he does to me, he will learn from it. All I can control is my actions and how I handle them."

The question of what will happen next is still a concern in this championship. Both drivers have lost points at different rounds. Both drivers have done miracles to win unexpected victories, and both drivers have collided on the track in an attempt to gain an advantage. After 14 races, they are separated by just five points in the drivers' standings.

Hamilton, who has won only one of the last ten races, is the clear favourite for victory in Sunday's Russian Grand Prix. Red Bull and Verstappen have decided to reduce their losses and install a new engine which will automatically place Verstappen at the back. Hamilton would be one step closer to a record eighth world title if he wins Sunday's race.

Hamilton insists that he wants fair fighting, win or lose. Hamilton insists that a collision at the end of the season, which has occurred on many occasions in F1 history, will not be allowed.

He said, "There's never any question about that," and he was firm. "I wouldn't want to win that way.

"If you lose, it's okay. At least you still have your dignity. You always want to win the right manner, and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

"I love racing and I love fighting for the championship. At the end of the season that's what my efforts have been for. So you can't really say you won't be disappointed if you don’t achieve the goals you set for yourself with the people you're trying to reach them with.

"But I can't forget the good things that have occurred. There are many positives in this year. I hope there will be more. It has been an awful year.