Conclusions from the Hamilton and Verstappen verdicts

Date published: November 13 2021 - Henry Valantine

Max Verstappen racing against Lewis Hamilton. Spain May 2021

Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from qualifying and Max Verstappen has been fined for touching his title rival’s car, but we learned several lessons from Friday’s events.

Hamilton was dropped to the back of the grid for sprint qualifying as a result of his disqualification, and a further five-place drop will come his way on Sunday after the penalty for taking a new Internal Combustion Engine takes effect.

Verstappen was seen touching his rival’s rear wing after qualifying, however, and he has since been fined €50,000 for his infringement – but escaped without a grid penalty.

The debate surrounding the influence the Red Bull driver may have had on Mercedes’ wing has raged on, with Helmut Marko having claimed that Mercedes were using this as part of their defence to avoid punishment.

But Mercedes eventually bore the brunt of the ruling from the FIA, and the team confirmed they will not be appealing the ruling against them in what is a significant moment in this year’s title race.

Mercedes’ illegal rear wing was not deliberate

Lewis Hamilton in his pit box. Brazil November 2021.

Hamilton’s enthusiasm after qualifying fastest on Friday will undoubtedly have disappeared, given the emerging news that has car was under investigation, before losing his front-row start altogether.

In its most basic form, his disqualification came off the back of an infringement with his car’s DRS system, whereby the FIA concluded that his rear wing flap opened too far, beyond the permitted 85mm within the technical regulations.

Any further gap in the rear wing would theoretically add a top speed advantage for the Mercedes, with less drag affecting the car in a straight line when the wing is open.

Rather than this being a tactical ploy to get themselves ahead of Red Bull, the FIA confirmed that they and Mercedes agreed that there was no foul play involved – and merely a simple mistake, albeit one which would prove costly.

“The same design has been tested many times during the season and uniformly passed,” read the statement. “Further, the FIA has examined the design of the area of the car in question and are satisfied that the design meets the intent of the regulation.

“There is therefore no question in the minds of the Stewards that the test failure indicates any intent to exceed the maximum dimension either by action or design.

“The Competitor noted that this is not a systemic breach, and is indeed unique. It was, rather, something gone wrong.”

Max is not the Incredible Hulk

Max Verstappen in the Red Bull garage. Brazil November 2021.

Marko’s belief that the aim of Mercedes was to prove Verstappen played a part in the team’s rear wing failing their test ultimately fell short for Red Bull’s rivals.

After a night and day of investigation, Verstappen was found to not have Hulk hands, and his actions “caused no direct harm” to the Mercedes after qualifying.

“The Competitor of car 44 also agreed that it was unlikely that Verstappen’s actions caused the fault,” read one part of the FIA verdict, meaning Hamilton too admitted that the Dutchman’s action would likely have been inconsequential in the outcome of the investigation.

While Verstappen was found to have not caused extra damage to the Mercedes, his punishment indicates that the stewards are unlikely to tolerate such behaviour again, given that there is “significant potential to cause harm” in those situations.

Alonso played a role in the drama

He finished top of FP2 on Saturday, but Fernando Alonso had involvement in how the ruling against Verstappen unfolded – but the two-time World Champion was unaware of it.

The FIA were analysing several angles of Verstappen’s look at Hamilton’s rear wing, and they confirmed that on-board footage gained from the Alpine helped prove that the Dutchman had indeed touched his rival’s car.

Alonso parked his car close to the top three after qualifying finished, which allowed the FIA the best possible angle through which to view Verstappen’s offence.

Combined with the footage from Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen himself, the Spaniard may have accidentally helped land the Red Bull driver with a hefty fine come the ruling from the stewards – but also helped dismiss any further suggestion that Verstappen tampered with the wing.

The end of Inspector Seb?

Given the nature of Verstappen’s all-too-close look at Hamilton’s Mercedes, this has prompted the FIA to take a stronger stance on policing how drivers act around other cars after the end of sessions.

While this has been relatively common in recent year, especially in the case of Sebastian Vettel, whose looks at his competitors have seen him dubbed ‘Inspector Seb’ on social media, those in charge of Formula 1 have now decided to clamp down on it.

“It is clear to the Stewards that it has become a habit of the drivers to touch cars after qualifying and the races,” read a part of Verstappen’s verdict.

“This was also the explanation of Verstappen, that it was simply habit to touch this area of the car which has been a point of speculation in recent races between both teams. This general tendency has been seen as mostly harmless and so has not been uniformly policed. Nevertheless, it is a breach of the parc ferme regulation and has significant potential to cause harm.

“The Stewards further note that it is intended that all teams and drivers take notice that future breaches may incur different penalties from the Stewards of those events.”

Or, in other words, any repeat offenders are likely to face stronger consequences in the future, given the ramifications of this case.