Lewis Hamilton described title rival Max Verstappen as "f------ crazy" on Sunday night as their bitter feud erupted again at a chaotic, crash-strewn Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Hamilton eventually won a race that featured two red flags, multiple high-speed crashes and three different leaders to draw level with his rival on 369.5 points apiece heading to the final race in Abu Dhabi next weekend. In theory, whichever of them finishes in front in the UAE will be crowned champion.
Hamilton is aiming for a record eighth title while Verstappen is chasing his first.
But it took a while for the results to be confirmed, with both Hamilton and Verstappen called in to see the stewards in Jeddah following a bizarre incident on lap 37 of the race, when Hamilton hit the back of Verstappen after the Red Bull driver was ordered to let the Mercedes pass, having overtaken him illegally earlier in the lap.
It was that move, reminiscent of their coming together in Brazil last month, that caused Hamilton to scream over the radio: "This guy is f------ crazy man."
And their bad blood continued post-race, with Hamilton effectively accusing Verstappen of believing himself above the rules.
"For me I had to keep my cool out there which was difficult to do," the 36-year-old said. "I've been racing for 28 years and come across a lot of different characters. There are a few of them that are over the limit, rules do not apply or they don't think of the rules."
Hamilton accused Verstappen of "brake-testing" him on lap 37, when the Dutchman was ordered to allow Hamilton to pass him and slowed on the racing line to do so.
After deliberating until 1.36am local time, stewards concluded that both drivers had been trying to avoid leading into the DRS zone, wanting the advantage of the open wing flap through that section.
They added, though, that Verstappen’s braking had been "sudden" and "erratic", and he was therefore "predominantly at fault", handing him a 10-second penalty to be imposed post-race. That did not end up costing the Red Bull driver any championship points since he finished 16 seconds ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas in third place.
Verstappen was also given two penalty points on his licence, which made it three for the day and seven since September. Any driver accumulating 12 points in a 12-month period is handed an automatic race ban.
That decision could yet prove significant. While Hamilton and Verstappen enter the final race level on points, it is Verstappen who has more race wins - nine to Hamilton’s eight - meaning he would claim the title on countback if neither driver finishes the race. At this rate you could see that happening. Hamilton certainly implied that he felt his younger rival was beginning to take matters too far.
"I was just trying to do my talking on the track," Hamilton said. "There were so many crazy curveballs then he [Verstappen] brake tested me to get the DRS and overtake me again into turn one.
"He is over the limit for sure. I've avoided collisions on so many occasions with this guy and I don't mind doing that as you live to survive another day."
Hamilton admitted that he had not been told that Verstappen was letting him through, which could explain why he was surprised and failed to take avoiding action in time. But he insisted the Dutchman was so aggressive with his braking he left him nowhere to go.
😱 Oh. My. Word. 😱
Max Verstappen was told to let Lewis Hamilton past and he slowed but then Hamilton ran into the back of him!! His front wing is damaged!
🗣 "He just brake tested me!" says Hamilton
📺 #SaudiArabianGP live on Sky Sports F1#SkyF1 | #F1 pic.twitter.com/mBY6G6hd0P
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) December 5, 2021
"I didn't get the information [that Verstappen was letting him through] so it was very confusing and was he trying to play some crazy tactic? Then he hit the brakes so hard and I nearly went up the back of him.
"For him, it does not matter if we both don't finish but for me we both need to finish. I'm personally chilled. I feel like I'm in the boxing ring and I'm ready to go."
Hamilton, who suffered damage to his front wing as a result of the contact, went on to pass his rival on lap 43 of 50. And his victory ensures the title race will go down to the wire.
'Spectacular, but not good racing'
the race left a sour taste in the mouth of almost everyone concerned, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner effectively accusing race director Michael Masi of having lost control. Masi was heard negotiating with Red Bull during the second red flag period, discussing what might be acceptable as punishment for Verstappen overtaking off the track.
"The sport missed Charlie Whiting today," said Horner, referring to the FIA’s longstanding and much-respected race director who died in 2019.
"We're over-regulated," Horner said. "There are rules about 10 car lengths, a formation lap isn't a formation lap if it's a restart.. It just feels there are too many rules. It felt like today the sport missed Charlie Whiting, I'm sorry to say. But the experience he had...
"It's obviously frustrating, it's difficult for Michael and the stewards, particularly at this type of venue and circuit, with the amount of debris and types of corner. It's the same for everybody."
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was equally worked up by the end of a chaotic race, concluding that the race, while dramatic, was not a good advertisement for the sport. "Lewis deserved it," he said. "He could've been out a few times with a broken wing. That was spectacular, but not good racing.
"The telemetry shows he [Verstappen] is slowing down, then accelerated, then slowing down again. Lewis did not know [if he was being allowed to move ahead], it's the wrong sequence of messages.
"We need to look at the stewards and they look at the telemetry and come to a judgement. It was a degree of frustration and I need to reserve judgement until I've seen the race again tomorrow.
"The driving needs to be assessed and looked at. It is hard, very hard, maybe over the line. We just want to have a clean championship and the best man wins.
"If it is Max, I'm at peace with that but we need it to be a fair race. Max has more wins so it's still an advantage. It's important to have a great, great race at the end of the season, with two fantastic drivers racing each other. It's going down to the wire and that's how it should be."