(GMM) 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve has moved to play down the high controversy surrounding 2021 title rivals Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.
After Sunday’s Italian GP, in which the pair sensationally collided and retired following a crash in the first chicane, the international media shifted the intensity of their championship battle into a higher gear.
“The battle between them has become a brutal war, which will become part of Formula 1 history like Senna-Prost,” Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport declared.
“Both are convinced that they are right,” Corriere dello Sport added.
Corriere della Sera newspaper opined: “The rivalry has gotten out of hand with chaos, mutual accusations and the giant egos of the two star pilots.”
“They both want to win at any cost,” La Repubblica said.
Spain’s La Vanguardia added: “This is a fight between two monsters who hate each other.”
Former F1 driver Christian Danner told Sport 1 that Verstappen’s move on Hamilton, for which he has been penalized 3 places on the Sochi grid, was “personal” and a case of “psychological warfare”.
Another former driver, GPDA president Alex Wurz, commented: “For me it’s a racing incident, with 70 percent of the responsibility on Max.”
Dutchman Christijan Albers, who raced in F1 over a decade ago, told De Telegraaf: “Realistically, Max shouldn’t have been there at that moment.
“But that’s just Max – he saw a gap. He has been trained and raised that way from an early age.
“I am a huge fan of his, but this time it was his fault even if I can’t imagine making a decision in that space of time to willfully drive someone off.
“We are in the same situation as Prost and Senna and it is now up to the FIA to draw the line,” Albers added.
Even Dutch GP boss Jan Lammers thinks Verstappen may have been stepping tantalizingly close to the red racing line.
“What I can imagine is that Max might have thought ‘If I don’t win, then neither do you’. Max knew that if he didn’t intervene, he would lose points,” he told NOS.
But another Dutchman, former F1 tire engineer Kees van de Grint, takes issue with Toto Wolff’s claim that Verstappen committed a “tactical foul” at Monza.
“I hate that comment from Wolff,” he told RTL GP. “First of all, if he thinks Max did it on purpose, he should dare to say it clearly.”
As for the always-outspoken Jacques Villeneuve, the Canadian admits Verstappen was “aggressive” but he also thinks Hamilton “could have left 10 centimeters more”.
“You cannot punish one of them for doing something intentionally when the contact started long before the maneuver could have become intentional,” he told Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“They only gave him the penalty because the wheel of the Red Bull ended up on Hamilton’s head. They said they wouldn’t judge on the basis of the outcome, but that’s what they did.
“The most important thing is that they are both fighting for the world championship and neither of them wants to be behind the other,” said Villeneuve.
So, when asked if the pair should now calm down as the battle races on to Sochi, 50-year-old Villeneuve insisted: “No.
“Yes, it’s a fight, but they’re gladiators. They’re not too aggressive, they just want to beat each other.
“It’s not like Senna and Prost either. Their rivalry went far beyond the limit into hatred and the willingness to play dirty.
“Is it like that with Lewis and Max? No. I hope to see more battles that don’t end up in the wall, even if it will probably happen again.”