So it’s a few hours since the US Grand Prix finished and there’s one topic of conversation that’s still keeping Formula 1 fans pretty animated. Well two, if you count the boxing style driver introductions, but we’ll get onto those in a minute.
Firstly, let’s talk about Max, who had, quite frankly, a brilliant race yesterday and once again gave us all plenty to get very excited about. Just a day after announcing a new contract extension, he had one of those afternoons where he showed just why Red Bull had stumped up a new ‘reassuringly expensive’ salary, in the words of his team boss, to keep him through to the end of 2020.
But was he robbed by the Stewards?
According to Niki Lauda he was, “The worst decision I’ve ever seen. We’re racing drivers, we’re not on a normal road.” he said after the race. Christian Horner, pretty much seething at the decision, described it as “unbelievably harsh.”
Even Kimi Raikkonen, the man Max Verstappen passed on that brilliant last lap, had no idea why the Dutchman had been penalised.
As for Max himself, understandably he wasn’t impressed. “It’s one idiot steward up there, who always makes decisions against me. At the end of the day everybody is running wide everywhere, there are no track limits. With these stupid decisions you really kill the sport.”
Now all of these reactions came pretty quickly after the race and I’m not sure if any of the quartet have revised their opinion. I’m actually travelling to Houston with Max in a few hours so I’ll ask him myself. I spoke to the ‘idiot steward’ as he put it, last night though and, as ever, there’s more to the incident than at first sight.
Max was right, drivers had been going wide all weekend long. He even admitted himself that he was one of the main protagonists. We’d been talking about it in commentary too. Before qualifying I’d gone to seek some clarification on the matter and was told that in the opinion of Charlie Whiting, the Race Director, it was ok for cars to exceed track limits, unless they were gaining a lasting advantage in doing so.
The Sporting Regulations, Article 27.3 if you want to read them, talk about gaining any lasting advantage. However, they also mention that the white lines are part of the track but the kerbs are not. Drivers have to make every reasonable effort to use the track at all times and can’t leave without a justifiable reason. Check them out, always worth a read.
But what we had this weekend, and this is where you can argue that the Race Director doesn’t help in the matter, were multiple occasions where drivers left the track without a justifiable reason (other than they were going too fast to make the corner properly), possibly gaining a lasting advantage and not being penalised.
There were several incidents at Turn 1 during the race, but you could argue on those occasions that cars were forced out wide because of another car on their inside. But at Turn 9 and at Turn 19, consistently throughout practice, qualifying and the race, drivers were exceeding track limits.
I know that I’m probably getting a little boring on the subject and we do talk about it during commentary, but a large degree of ambiguity has been created on the issue by the lack of a hard and fast regulation that clears up any misunderstanding. You could argue that Charlie Whiting is making a rod for his own back by using the ‘lasting advantage’ reasoning as the yard stick for a penalty or not. Formula 1 drivers wouldn’t be exceeding track limits if they didn’t reason that they’d gain an advantage by doing so, surely?
Now in the case of Verstappen versus Raikkonen, the lasting advantage, as has been told to me by one of the stewards, is that had Max stayed within the track limits when passing Kimi, he wouldn’t have had the speed to get ahead coming out of the corner. In other words, by cutting the corner and leaving the track, he carried the momentum that would keep him ahead and therefore they had no option but to issue the 5 second time penalty.
Did the stewards really want to act as spoilsports and deny Max the podium that his driving surely deserved on the day? Of course not, and knowing one of the stewards well, I’m sure he feels awful at the position he and his colleagues found themselves in. Do you really think they wanted to see Max go to the cool down room thinking that he was going to be on the podium, only to have to remove him before the ceremony? Of course not, but they had to apply the penalty because Max had broken the rules.
What has prompted such a massive reaction is that throughout the rest of the weekend, it looks very much like everybody else broke the rules too and didn’t get a penalty. It’s confusing right, and as a reply to the many tweets I’ve received on the subject, I’m with you on this.
So here’s my request for the future. Could we please make it a little more simple for people to understand and either put in place deterrents outside of the kerbs to stop drivers wanting to leave the track, grass or gravel for instance, where you know if you go off you will never gain a lasting advantage. Or make the kerbs bigger, once more to act as a deterrent. Or take the line about a lasting advantage out of the regulations and state that if you leave the track without a damn good reason, you will get a penalty.
If we want the audience for Formula 1 to grow, and surely we all want more people to share our enjoyment of this great sport, we have to make it a little clearer to follow and understand sometimes and what happened at the end of the race yesterday, wasn’t necessarily that easy for everybody to comprehend.
And on that point, shall we talk about Michael Buffer? Not only did I have many of my mates sending me messages asking what the hell was going on? But social media came alive too and, it has to be said, there weren’t a huge amount of positive comments about the ‘boxing style’ introductions.
Personally, I didn’t mind them. I like the fact that Formula 1 wanted to try something a little bit different to create an atmosphere before the start of the race. We talk about portraying the drivers as heroes (which they are) so why not introduce them as gladiators? It was a trial, don’t expect it at every race. However if the time was moved to an hour earlier, say, when the drivers come out for their track parade, surely something similar could take place at every race without interfering with parts of the buildup that you particularly enjoy.
A lot of you said that it just wasn’t very F1, but I’m not so sure. To see a former used car salesman, now worth a small fortune (net worth around $400 million apparently) masterminding things on the gird, surely we’ve seen that somewhere before in this sport, haven’t we?