Are you still a fighter? That is the doubt Bernie Ecclestone placed in Lewis Hamilton’s mind before the British Grand Prix by suggesting the world champion may have lost his verve.
And it is hard to imagine that the comment did not play a role in the dramatic scenes that unfolded at a packed and patriotic Silverstone.
For the record, Hamilton won here for an eighth time with a brilliant comeback drive and there was all the accompanying post-race chanting and flag-waving. A tonic after Wembley, the penalties and the thuggery. It was achieved the hard way, close to the finish.
Lewis Hamilton took victory at Silverstone for the eighth time in his Formula One career
Lewis Hamilton overtook Charles Leclerc with two laps left to win the British Grand Prix
Hamilton dived down inside of Verstappen into Copse corner as he tried to go for the lead
Hamilton’s left front made contact with Verstappen’s right rear, putting him into the barrier
But the topic on every lip centred on a terrifying first-lap collision. The moment the lid blew off the boiling kettle of Hamilton’s title fight with Max Verstappen, a 180mph smash on one of the fastest corners in motor racing.
It is my contention that the main impulse behind the incident was Hamilton’s desperation. Spurred on by Ecclestone’s judgment, by the chastening loss of the sprint race the day before, the knowledge that if he didn’t make his pass stick at this point he’d be staring at the backside of Verstappen’s Red Bull for the next 51 laps.
This is how it unfolded. Hamilton, starting second behind his rival, got off the line cleanly. Verstappen shut the door at Abbey. He then defended furiously through the next sequence of corners, which yielded the best lines for Hamilton, allowing him to move fleetingly in front at 200mph down the Wellington Straight.
But Verstappen regained the lead through Brooklands. Then he ran wide at the exit of Luffield, offering Hamilton a glimmer.
Am I a fighter? Verstappen steered to the centre of the track, Hamilton drew level close to the wall on the old pit straight. Verstappen was fractionally ahead as they entered the right-hander Copse. He turned in to round the corner and Hamilton’s front-left tyre clipped the right-rear of the now helpless Red Bull man.
Barely losing any pace across the gravel, he thudded into the wall. The crowd let out a groan. The 51G hit winded Verstappen.
Leclerc held the lead after the opening lap crash but couldn’t hold on with two laps to go
Verstappen was taken to hospital for precautionary checks after his crash with Hamilton
His race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase inquired: ‘Max, are you OK?’ He said nothing for eight seconds. Then came deep, rasping breaths. He then gingerly climbed out of the cockpit and hobbled into an ambulance.
The race was stopped for 45 minutes as the mangled car was lifted away, a green tarpaulin preparing it for the morgue, and bedlam erupted and fingers were pointed.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, clearly incensed, told race director Michael Masi: ‘In that corner, Hamilton was never anywhere near alongside.
‘Every driver that has driven this circuit knows you do not stick a wheel on the inside of Copse. That is an enormous accident, and it was 100 per cent Max’s corner. As far as I am concerned, the full blame is on Hamilton, who should never have been in that position.
‘You could have had a massive accident. Thank God Max walked away unscathed. I hope you’ll deal with it appropriately.’
His Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff sent emails to Masi — a strange thing to do — and then went up to see the stewards to make the case for Hamilton. This enraged Horner so much that he also climbed to see the stewards to counter Wolff’s argument.
Hamilton was given a ten-second penalty and battled back to win from fourth position
By now Verstappen was on the way to hospital with the stewards left to consider whether it was a racing incident or one that required blame to be apportioned.
I would have favoured the former decision. Here were two men duelling for their game’s greatest prize, and this time, unlike others, Hamilton was unwilling to budge.
But if either driver was culpable it was Hamilton. If the boot had been on the other foot, Verstappen’s critics would have rolled out the ‘Mad Max’ accusations. The stewards issued Hamilton a 10-second penalty.
Once served, he was running fourth and had half the race to get back up the field. That he did was a testament to his enduring abilities, passing Ferrari’s surprise leader Charles Leclerc with two laps remaining — at Copse, of all places. Valtteri Bottas was a distant third.
The victory by 3.8sec slashed Hamilton’s deficit to Verstappen to just eight points. It was timely because few tracks suit the Briton’s car as ideally as the old airbase in Northamptonshire. That realisation may well have played its part in Hamilton’s impatience.
Hamilton’s victory has reignited his title push as he goes for an eighth championship
When it was over, the Brit celebrated with gusto. In the circumstances, it was a little crass.
Red Bull noted that he might have asked after the health of their 23-year-old driver, a point the shaken man made himself after watching the scenes of jubilation from hospital, calling Hamilton ‘disrespectful and unsportsmanlike’.
Verstappen had lasted just nine bends. But the impact of this coming together, the most explosive of recent years, will shape much of the remaining 13 rounds.
The pair have previously spoken of sharing mutual respect but that kind of sentiment went right off the road at 3.05pm on Sunday.
The seriousness of the situation was dawning on Hamilton at his last press conference.
‘I really hope Max is OK and I will hit him up to check,’ he said. ‘We will live to fight another day and there are lots of tough races coming up.’ There sure are now.
Sportsmail’s KIERAN LYNCH provided live Formula One coverage of the British Grand Prix, including build-up, updates and result.