Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen treated us to another epic battle in Brazil – but should Max have been penalised for the first clash at Turn 4?
Monday’s PlanetF1 team, immensely jealous that Jon and Finley are the first to have a day off after such a crazy race weekend, gathered to deliver our verdicts.
Max Verstappen bagged the perfect hat-trick at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. No, it was not pole position, the win and the fastest lap. Rather it was escaping a proper penalty for breaking parc ferme rules when he touched Lewis Hamilton’s car, then Red Bull being given the all-clear to work on his rear wing when Mercedes were not allowed to fix Hamilton’s and finally not even being investigated for running himself and Hamilton off the track as the Briton tried to pass him for the lead.
Fighting for the lead, a significantly faster Hamilton tried to overtake Verstappen around the outside of Turn 4. The Dutchman used his RB16B as a blockade, even running himself wide and off the track to push Hamilton wider than wide.
He forced another driver off the track, it is really is that simple. Even if he went off himself, he pushed Hamilton wide in order to hold onto the lead.
And, his steering angle suggests it was done deliberately. Looking at the placement of his car, and his steering angle, Verstappen most probably would not have the made the corner. But for him that was okay, as long as Hamilton didn’t have the opportunity to pass on the track.
The most baffling part is that Verstappen’s forward-facing onboard, showing his steering angle, wasn’t used by the stewards to make their ruling with Michael Masi saying they didn’t have “access” to it. It is no wonder Mercedes feel as if the world, and the FIA, was against them at Interlagos.
Christian Horner asked why would a penalty be dished out when there wasn’t any contact, but that is irrelevant, the rules state you cannot push another driver off the track. Verstappen pushed Hamilton off. It seems pretty black and white to me.
I am not fully buying into the conspiracy theories about the FIA being against Mercedes (how many times in years past have people said the exact opposite?), but what Mercedes have been victims of, just like any team can be, is general ineptitude from the FIA. The no investigation necessary into Max Verstappen is another perfect example of it.
My jaw hit the floor when that verdict popped up on our screens and it still remains there now since learning the FIA had no on-board footage available to them from Verstappen’s car. I’m not planning on committing any crimes, but I wouldn’t want Michael Masi and his stewards forming my defence team.
The two key elements to me on why Verstappen should have been penalised are: Lewis Hamilton was ahead going into the corner and Verstappen was on the inside.
That position should, in normal circumstances, put the onus on Hamilton. He either messes up the corner, braking too late for example, and goes off the track by himself, or, he passes Verstappen around the outside. The latter would have surely happened if, like Michelle says, Max hadn’t turned his car into a blockade.
This incident, in my eyes, was barely any different from the Lando Norris v Sergio Perez incident at Austria earlier in the season and Lando received a penalty for it. We once again find ourselves talking about inconsistency amongst the stewards.
I’m not sure the no action taken against Verstappen here even sets a precedent for the remaining three races of the season. It should do, whether we agree with this form of racing in wheel-to-wheel combat or not, but this ‘let them race’ school of thought has never been consistently applied, so why would it suddenly start now?
I, for one, will not be holding my breath.
I just have one big question here: Why oh why would the FIA not wait for the on-board footage from Verstappen’s car to come through before making their decision?
There was still a third of the race to go at that point, which considering how much the stewards can usually see, feels like plenty of time to be able to get that footage, examine it properly and penalise accordingly.
Given how much time they took over the previous penalties and fines for Hamilton and Verstappen earlier in the weekend, it’s clear that they usually have the patience to come to a decision – even if it would have been a retrospective punishment after the race.
Being both rash and, most likely, incorrect is certainly not a good look for the FIA on this one.
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) November 14, 2021
On track though, I’m in the same school of thought as Mark and Michelle in thinking Verstappen did not make enough effort to make the apex.
Whether it was a decision in the heat of the moment to think ‘if another crash happens, so be it’ from the Dutchman would purely be speculative, but Hamilton had far more to lose in that situation in the context of the World Championship, so he made the ultimately wise move to follow the Red Bull off the track and try again later.
Following on from Michelle’s point also, hearing Horner plead ignorance surrounding why Verstappen would have been given a penalty while simultaneously saying he’d also have told his sporting director to “have a moan” if the roles were reversed, feels a bit like the Red Bull boss knew within himself that Max got away with one on Sunday.
Usually I am very much behind the whole ‘let them race’ approach, but there has to be a line, and forcing yourself and the attacking car off the track to retain position, well if we were to think of a physical line for acceptable defence, then Verstappen’s example at Interlagos was so far beyond said line that it is already waiting in Qatar for the next race.
Horner’s dispute that no contact was made and hence no penalty was warranted, simply holds no weight. If Hamilton had have decided to hold his ground, as he was entitled to since he was ahead into Turn 4, then we would have been talking about another high-impact crash between the title challengers.
On a weekend where the stewards were generous with their supply of penalties and fines, the FIA certainly could not claim a reluctance to artificially impact the results on track, which a time penalty would have done since Hamilton comfortably ditched Verstappen on Sunday once he successfully made the overtake.
Nobody wants to see this incredible title battle determined by a crash on track, but if the FIA are saying that Verstappen’s initial defence against Hamilton was fair play, then the chances of this happening during the remaining three rounds increases greatly.
A clear statement should have been made, in the form of a penalty, that Verstappen’s actions went beyond acceptable defensive driving.