Lewis Hamilton said he felt fortunate to be alive after a collision with Formula One title rival Max Verstappen at the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Stewards handed Red Bull’s championship leader Verstappen a three-place grid penalty for the next round in Russia after his car landed on top of Hamilton’s Mercedes, with the rear tyre hitting the champion’s head.
The halo protection device, a titanium ring around the cockpit, took most of the impact in a crash that left both drivers out of the race at Monza.
“I feel very, very fortunate today thank God for the halo. That did ultimately save me, you know, and saved my neck,” seven times world champion Hamilton told reporters.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been hit on the head by a car before, and it’s quite a shock for me.
“I’m so, so grateful that I’m still here. I feel incredibly blessed. I feel like someone was watching over me today.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff called a ‘tactical foul’ but Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner said he was disappointed by the Austrian’s comment.
“I think it’s a racing incident and thankfully nobody was injured today,” he said after a race that ended in a McLaren one-two with Australian Daniel Ricciardo the winner.
Stewards disagreed and said Hamilton’s positioning was reasonable.
Verstappen started and ended the day five points clear of Hamilton after gaining two points from Saturday’s sprint qualifying race.
The Red Bull driver had lost 11 seconds to a slow pitstop that dropped him down the order and when Hamilton pitted later the Briton emerged from the pitlane a fraction ahead.
The cars ran wheel-to-wheel and made contact at the first chicane, the Red Bull lifting off the kerb and into the air with both ending up in the gravel.
“I made sure I left a car’s width on the outside for him, I went into turn one and I was ahead and going into turn two and then all of a sudden he was on top of me,” said Hamilton.
“He just didn’t want to give way today and he knew when he was going into two what was going to happen… but he still did it,” he told Sky Sports television.
Verstappen said Hamilton “just kept on squeezing me.
“If he would have left me just a car width we would have raced out of turn two anyway and I think he would have probably still been in front. But he just kept on pushing me wider and at one point there was nowhere to go.”
The title rivals also collided at Hamilton’s own British Grand Prix when Verstappen ended up in hospital for checks and Hamilton took the win.
“It was clear for Max that it would end up in a crash,” said Wolff.
“We had a high-speed crash in Silverstone. We had one car ending up on top of the other one, on Lewis’s head, here. So how far can we go? Maybe next time we have a high-speed crash and land on each other.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, Editing by Catherine Evans/Toby Davis/Ken Ferris