Formula 1 in 2019 is on the decline. Fans are leaving in droves, tickets aren’t selling and the racing, most notably at the sharp end of the grid, is borderline non-existent.
So what a joy it was on Sunday when, with 23 laps to go, we had two of the sport’s gladiators fighting for the Canadian Grand Prix victory.
Momentum was initially with Sebastian Vettel, however, swapping to the hard Pirellis, it was Lewis Hamilton who came to the fore and chased down the Ferrari driver.
Hamilton closed the gap to less than a second, gaining the advantage of DRS and putting Vettel under immense pressure.
The German made a mistake as he lost the rear end of his SF90 and cut the grass at the Turns 3/4 chicane.
He returned to the track, still trying to regain control of his car, while Hamilton tried to pass him around the outside but, forced close the wall, had to back off.
Hamilton called it “dangerous” and the stewards agreed, slapping Vettel with a five-second time penalty that cost him and Ferrari their first race win of this season.
— Planet F1 (@Planet_F1) June 10, 2019
And so with 22 laps to go F1 fans – the neutrals and the fanatics – were robbed of an epic race.
That’s what happened, you can’t argue with the facts but you can argue as to whether the penalty was fair or not.
Most, except Hamilton and his boss Toto Wolff, say it was not.
Watching the video, as we have all have done numerous times since Sunday, it’s hard to know what else Vettel could have gone – or where he could have gone.
“I was trying to survive, to keep the car on track,” he explained. “I came from the grass, the tyres were dirty and I was fighting to get back on line and get control back of the car.
“I don’t know what I can do differently. It is a very short time. I lost the rear on entry. I had to make the correction. I sailed through the grass. I was lucky not to spin. Once I regained control, I had a look in the mirror and Lewis was right behind me.”
📸 of the weekend
Sebastian Vettel swapping the number 1 in front Hamilton's car for a number 2. pic.twitter.com/dX6b8XG9y7
— ESPN F1 (@ESPNF1) June 9, 2019
What was Vettel supposed to do? As 2009 World Champion Jenson Button put it: “You can’t just stop the car and stay off the circuit.”
Former driver Allan McNish says he is “not really sure what Vettel could have done differently when rejoining…with the momentum he had he was always going to end up where he did.”
The F1 regulations themselves offer Vettel a defence as they state that “manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are strictly prohibited.”
There was nothing deliberate about Vettel’s actions, he was trying to regain control of the car.
GPDA head Alex Wurz explained: “His helmet moved to look into mirror only after steering correction! That he slid that far is laws of physics.
“No space for Lewis is name of game with street tracks. What happened to let them race? Was it sketchy? Yes! A penalty? Not in my view.”
There was no ‘let them race’ in Canada despite a) the FIA saying they want to adopt that approach and b) what was at stake.
And that, unfortunately F1 fans, is where the biggest price was paid.
We lost out on what could have been a finish for the ages; Vettel and Ferrari lost the race win that could have galvanized their season – thus benefitting F1 and the fans, and the World title was all but decided – not on the track but in the stewards’ office.