The tight battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen for the 2021 Formula One World Championship is growing in intensity and with it, the heat builds among rivals.
But the animosity between the fanbase overshadows even the rivalry.
There is little doubt that the promoters of Formula One, Liberty Media, are rubbing their hands with glee.
Two of motorsport’s hardest chargers pushing the competitive envelope and it is glorious to take in.
Given seven years of near dominance by Mercedes – and mostly Lewis Hamilton – Red Bull’s long-awaited return to the top of the standings this year with Max Verstappen at the wheel is raising attention – and temperatures. Never more so than online.
It is refreshing to see that neither driver gives an inch, although at both Silverstone and Monza, one could argue that may be inches should have been offered. Alas physics taught us long along that two-into-one doesn’t go, although Verstappen and Hamilton’s attempts to coagulate have been noble.
For the most part though, the action on track between the pair has been tough, but respectful – which makes it such a shame the sparring’s between the pair’s online fanbase often veers into distasteful name calling and harrowed petulance. Some would call it childish, but that would be an insult to children everywhere.
After the clashes at Silverstone and Monza, it was difficult to not smile a little at the posts online declaring that each driver should be arrested for attempting to murder the other.
All too often, the tone casts itself downward into a vile pit of abuse. Much of the bile is bellowed by from the screaming few, demanding to heard, regardless of the crap they belch online.
But then there is the really quite horrific noise that permeates through the fanbase, twisted by racist rhetoric or anti-British, Dutch or European dialogue that serves only to cut, to wound, to injure, to incite.
These razor-sharp words that pretend to be untouchable and reside in the deepest recesses of hearts and minds. It is often said that anonymity online offers avenues for people to “get away” with the worst excesses, but it is an argument that doesn’t quite stand up, because anonymity is not in play as often as is accepted.
There are times when I wonder if we are just an angry species and that the cloak of civility merely shrouds people’s ugly truths and heinous beliefs. The violent words that emerge online and the thoughts that underpin them spend much of life sitting below the surface, residing under one’s breath, waiting to come out for some air. In the end, I just put my laptop away and drink a glass of water. Anything to wash the putrid nonsense away.
Perhaps, we should accept some blame for doing just that, or maybe it is just so unnecessary to counter such fetid attitudes online. But this should not mean we cannot talk to and advise our children, our families, our friends, our colleagues. A thoughtful and understanding word in one’s ear can do so much more than combative capital letters spewed across your favourite platform.
And no. At this juncture, neither Verstappen nor Hamilton have attempted to kill each other, despite what the pained keyboard warriors and their battered fingertips think.
On track, meanwhile, the fight continues and while emotions become heightened inside their respective machines, such feelings generally never boil over outside of the cockpit. There is a quiet joy that can be taken from watching two drivers in the best two cars with the best two teams delivering a thoroughly entertaining titanic battle.
Yet, one cannot escape the fact that Verstappen is 24 years of age, while Hamilton is 12 years his senior and that simple fact means that this fight may not last as long as we would wish.
Whereas Verstappen has suffered four significant blips during his 2021 season, the races where he has uninterrupted runs has seen him either take the win or finish in the runner-up spot. Hamilton has endured fewer lowlights than Verstappen, but the highlights have not been as frequent and yet despite everything that has happened in the previous seventeen Grands Prix, the gap with five races to go is just twelve points.
In years to come, we may talk about stellar this championship has been, for the next years, the technical regulations change and with it, so may the order.
Embrace this while you can and leave the anger to one side. It really isn’t necessary.