Steward Garry Connelly has said the decision to strip Max Verstappen of his podium finish at the 2017 US GP remains one of his toughest decisions.
The Red Bull driver pulled off what first appeared to be a fantastic overtaking manoeuvre on Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, snatching P3 and a spot on the podium from the Finn on the final lap of the United States Grand Prix in Austin.
But Verstappen was pulled from the podium ceremony and replaced by Raikkonen shortly before it started. The stewards had concluded Verstappen went off the track and gained an unfair advantage, demoting him to P4 with a five-second time penalty.
Connelly was part of the stewards panel that made the decision and says it sticks with him as one of the toughest he has ever had to make.
“In deciding, we must demonstrate the responsibility to consider not just the side of the alleged offender,” Connelly told stewards around the world in an FIA web conference, as quoted by Autosport.
“It’s important to think about those who have been impacted as well. And I want to give a classic example here that sticks in my mind, and my fellow stewards’ at that event.
“It was the 2017 US Grand Prix, it was the last lap of the race. And Max Verstappen performed a brilliant move, an amazing move, on Kimi Raikkonen. And he overtook him on, I think, it was the third last turn.
“We had Mika Salo as our driver steward. And Mika is extremely quick on seeing what’s going on, on a race track.
“And he said to us immediately that was a brilliant move by Max, but he was off the track by about a metre on the inside of the corner. He left the track to overtake.
“We went back and looked at the vision and it was very, very clear within a minute of us looking at that.
“And with my fellow stewards in the room – Radovan Novak, Mika Salo and Dennis Dean – it was a difficult decision because we had to pull Max Verstappen off third place, off the podium, and replace him with Kimi Raikkonen.
“Boy, did we ever cop a lot of criticism. We were public enemies number one in the Netherlands and all the Red Bull fans around the world were up in arms. And a lot of other people as well.
“But we also looked at it from another perspective, in that another driver had been robbed of his rightful position because Max couldn’t have overtaken Kimi if he’d have complied with the rules.
“And to comply with the rules is very simple – you can’t go off track to overtake someone, you can’t leave the track and gain an advantage. And this was a lasting advantage. He went from fourth to third by overtaking one metre off the track.
“So when it comes to a difficult decision, yes, you feel sorry for the person you may have to penalise.
“But you also have to think about the other competitors that are affected by the move, or by the action of the competitor you are investigating.
“I think that’s something that always sticks with me. That was probably one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to take with my colleagues.
“But I still believe we did the right thing, we took the right decision.”
And Connelly believes that if you asked Verstappen about the incident today, he would agree also.
“I’m pretty sure if you speak to Max Verstappen today, he’ll agree that in retrospect it was the right decision,” he concluded.