It’s officially a three-place grid penalty for Max Verstappen in Sochi. He’s been blamed by the Stewards for that scary crash that put him and Lewis Hamilton out of the Italian GP. That’s an interesting decision.
As you’d expect, the crash has fueled the usual Twitter arguments about who’s to blame. I think neither of them are to blame, though, but obviously, the grid penalty for Max is the official answer so let’s try and understand the Stewards’ decision.
The crash was investigated after the race, and the Stewards spoke to Lewis and Max. They agreed with Lewis that Max didn’t get far enough alongside early enough and should’ve backed out of the move. Let’s dissect what led them to that.
“The driver of Car 44 (Lewis) was driving an avoiding line, although his position caused Car 33 (Max) to go onto the kerb.”
They’re saying that Lewis gave space whilst still racing and allowed Max to go alongside him and keep a lot of his car on track. Both drivers here are well within the rules.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 12, 2021
“But further, the Stewards observed that Car 33 was not at all alongside Car 44 until significantly into the entry into Turn 1. In the opinion of the Stewards, this manoeuvre was attempted too late for the driver of Car 33 to have “the right to racing room”.”
Again, the start of the statement is accurate, Max’s move was late, and he got more alongside going into the corner because he took more speed in and was on the outside. That’s normal racing.
But then we enter the sticky realms of “opinion”. In the eyes of the Stewards, Max got alongside too late for “the right to racing room”. Yes, even though he got alongside on the racetrack, it was too late to have the “right” to be there! I don’t get this. I appreciate that racing at chicanes is tricky and tight, but because a move is late, it doesn’t mean it has no right.
Obviously, there are no-hoper overtakes, but this clearly wasn’t one.
What the Stewards are trying to say here is that Lewis had every right to run Max out wide and towards the run-off. Lewis could go as wide as he liked.
It’s usually considered fair for the driver on the inside to open up the steering and force the driver on the outside to back out or go off the track. On lap one, Hamilton and Verstappen went side by side, this time with Max on the inside, at the Turn 4/5 chicane, the Della Roggia. In that scenario, Max did just that, opened up the steering, as is his right, and forced Lewis to bail and take to the run-off. That’s all fine. That’s a racing incident.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 12, 2021
The difference in the Turn 1/2 incident is that Max had room to stay on track and not back out. He wanted to complete the move rather than give up. He’s been penalised because his attempt to stay on track has caused the accident. That’s the tricky part for me. Surely not bailing out should be fine and not the justification for the penalty? If he had backed out late and gone on the run-off, it all would’ve been hunky-dory by the looks.
I don’t disagree with the Stewards that Max could have done that, and the incident could have been avoided. But I do disagree with their assumption that he should have done it and had no right to be there.
Hamilton’s first DNF in 3 YEARS! 🤯 pic.twitter.com/NTvJgQlngk
— WTF1 (@wtf1official) September 13, 2021
Lewis gave him the right to be there by not running him all the way out as Max did to him on Lap 1. Lewis took a respectful line and handed Max the right to race there.
The racetrack isn’t just corner entry. It goes way beyond that. Max can get alongside anywhere if he can do it legitimately and set up a move. He was on the track and alongside. If Lewis had left him less room, then it would be foolish to hang in there. But he didn’t. It was valid for both drivers to try and make the corner.
I think that Max and Lewis were allowed to race there, and it is a racing incident. Both drivers could’ve done more to avoid the crash, obviously, but that’s always the case.
Valtteri Bottas put it best: “It’s unfortunate.”
The most important part is that Lewis and Max were both able to walk away. Seeing cars go up in the air is terrifying, and whilst it can be high drama for us, it isn’t nice to see. It’s fantastic to see both drivers get out completely uninjured. Safe to say, the strength of the roll hoop and halo saved Lewis.