Ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix, race director Michael Masi and his FIA stewards need to clarify the rules of engagement in the wake of Max Verstappen’s zealous defense during his battle for the lead with Lewis Hamilton at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix last Sunday.
A review of the incident was requested by Mercedes and granted, as the World Champs cite unseen footage of the battle between the title rivals.
But that was not enough as the stewards determined that the footage presented by Mercedes was “not significant” enough to change their original decision on the day. Full report here>>>
Thus an alarming precedent is now set. Imagine if the move (pictured above) was allowed to all drivers in the field, had they known such tactics are acceptable. Chaos?
Nevertheless, this puts an end to the Interlagos episode between the title-chasing duo, but triggers a myriad of questions and with it promoting confusion regarding where do drivers draw the line if officials keep changing it.
What was clear on the day is that Verstappen while defending for the lead of the race, hung Hamilton out to dry, with the widest of lines through the double left-hander Descida do Lago, and clearly ran off track to defend his advantage.
It is a classic move that is employed at every level of racing, not the nicest but then we must argue that’s real racing. But where to draw the line?
Moreover, it does open up a can of worms as other drivers will see this as the new limit of acceptable driving tactics. But, because the incident involves two very powerful teams and their star drivers, most of the others on the grid are reluctant to take sides for obvious reasons.
Ricciardo, who knows Verstappen well from their days together at Red Bull, at least offered a comment but sat on the fence: “We all know Max and we all know how he drives. He’s always been aggressive, but that aggressiveness has been honed over the years.
“You can say that he drove too hard, but if you’re not only fighting for victory, but also for the world title, then it is clear – you will defend with everything you have. As for my opinion, I prefer to stay out of it.”
Notably, Lando Norris was not afraid to speak his mind. He recalled the penalty he received for forcing Red Bull’s Sergio Perez off track during their tussle in Austria earlier this year.
The McLaren driver received a five-second penalty for his antics, which were far less deliberate and ‘malicious’ than what we witnessed in Brazil.
With reference to the Verstappen move, Norris told reporters in Doha: “His looked a lot more intentional than mine. I mean, he didn’t steer into Lewis but he didn’t continue to steer into the corner either. It was obviously purposely done and very wide. He pushed the limits.”
Sebastian Vettel, no stranger to the dark arts of defensive driving, shared his views with German media on Thursday: “They were fighting for first place so it is obvious that this is the most important thing. I’m not directly involved in it, but I think a review of the incident is unnecessary.
“Time has passed, what would change now? I believe nothing. Lewis drove a great race, won and was the fastest. That’s all.”
Vettel was more perplexed by the 50,000 euros fine Verstappen received for touching Hamilton’s Mercedes in the Interlagos parc ferme: “We can’t touch the cars! What’s the point? Can we touch our cars? I think we all have to calm down a bit.”
Both Ferrari drivers were canvassed for their opinions yesterday, with Charles Leclerc, who is no stranger to run-ins with Verstappen recalled how last season the line of fair play shifted between the two.
Leclerc told media in Qatar: “You always need to adapt to every situation, every decision the stewards are doing. As soon as I knew that it wasn’t a penalty for Max in Austria (2020) I went to Silverstone and I changed my driving.
“So I think that’s a bit the same for every driver, we will always try to race at the limits of what we’re allowed to do. And that’s what I will do if in case these things are allowed.”
Leclerc admitted he did not care about the outcome, but will be seeking clarification from Masi at the next drivers’ briefing: “I’ll leave it to the stewards to just see what they think Leclerc insisted he had no preference in terms of outcome.
“Honestly, I really don’t mind. But whatever is allowed, then I just want it to be clear as a driver. That’s the only thing that matters to me. If this is allowed, then overtaking around the outside is going to be very difficult.
“But yeah, whatever the situation, the decision is, I’ll just adapt my driving to it; so I’m fine with both,” explained Leclerc.
Carlos Sainz echoed his teammate: “A driver uses every opportunity to his advantage. To know well if this hasn’t been penalised at the last race, if I’m in a similar position, I know I can do something similar.
“I think the car on the inside always has the preference and the ability to run the other car wide, but if the car on the inside also goes wide, that is what we need to clarify.
“I mean, lately it’s been a bit more like that. But if you really put your view back into, for example, then you there’s a couple of things to review. What happened in Austria [this season] actually is very similar. So yeah, I’m sure there will be some conversation in drivers’ meetings just to clarify a bit,” added Sainz.
With the ruling made that all was good with the move despite the new ‘evidence’ Masi and his stewards will have some explaining to do when they next brief the drivers. To be a fly on the wall in that one would be priceless…