While FIA Race Stewards slapped Max Verstappen with two penalties during a riveting but chaotic inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Formula 1 World Champion Damon Hill believes the Red Bull driver did nothing wrong.
The race at the all-new and very daunting Jeddah Corniche Circuit was fraught with controversy, triggered by Mick Schumacher’s heavy crash at Turn 22 which prompted a safety car and then a red flag as marshals cleared up the wreck.
What followed was pandemonium, another two crashes – Sergio Perez and Nikita Mazepin – ending that stint rapidly and, notably, exposing a super-aggressive Verstappen willing to do just about anything to get ahead of his title rival.
Arguably the most contentious point was when, after cutting the track Verstappen was told by his team, under orders from race stewards, to “strategically” allow Hamilton, the Red Bull driver took his time to abide while employing ‘tricks’ to keep the Mercedes behind.
This, of course, was in the wake of Mercedes playing dirty by getting Valtteri Bottas to hold up Verstappen when the pits got busy after Schumacher’s crash. The #77 car crawled almost to its first pitstop blatantly holding up the Red Bull.
Regarding the so-called “brake-test” and incidents leading to the penalties, Hill said: “It will be upon the driver who is letting the other past to do it as safely as possible. But I can’t really see what Max did wrong.
“He may have slowed down abruptly, but I think Lewis was nervous about going alongside him,” summed up the 1996 F1 World Champion.
This Lewis-Max beef has Senna-Prost-Suzuka-1990 written all over it
Hamilton beating Verstappen means the pair are level on points ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix season finale, which Max can win even if he and Lewis don’t finish at Yas Marina on Sunday by virtue of having nine victories this season to his rival’s eight.
Ideally, this one should be settled without bent metal, on track so that the best man wins. But how likely will that be?
After the night’s antics between Hamilton and Verstappen, Hill deduced: “This race has left a bitter feeling between the two drivers. There are some people who drive with absolutely no compromise and Max is one of those people. But he’s very skillful.
“Lewis isn’t intimidated but he is very wary of Max – and rightly so. If Lewis didn’t get the information, it’s quite possible he misunderstood the situation. But there was a sudden deacceleration…
“But l think Lewis didn’t know what was going on. Why would you drive into the back of a car? But maybe Lewis didn’t quite interpret the situation,” reckoned Hill.