After a collision during the Italian Grand Prix took both championship contender Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen out of the race, Formula One stewards have decided to award Verstappen a three-place grid penalty for the next race, the Russian Grand Prix. What’s your take on the situation?
First, here’s a little update from journalist Jennie Gow on why the decision was made:
“The Stewards observed on CCTV footage that the driver of Car 44 was driving an avoiding line, although his position caused Car 33 to go onto the kerb. But further, the Stewards observed that Car 33 was not at all alongside Car 44 until significantly into the entry for Turn 1. In the opinion of the Stewards, this maneuver was attempted too late for the driver of Car 33 to have ‘the right to racing room,’” the ruling states. “While Car 44 could have steered further from the kerb to avoid the incident, the Stewards determined that his position was reasonable and therefore find that the driver of Car 33 was predominately to blame for the incident.
“In coming to the penalty the Stewards emphasize that they have only considered the incident itself and not the consequences thereof.”
Basically: Hamilton had the right of way. So, while there was more that he could have done to avoid causing the incident, it wasn’t up to him to avoid a collision. That came down to Verstappen, and the Stewards felt he should have taken evasive action to leave room for Hamilton. After all, basic racing etiquette dictates that the passing driver is the one who has the responsibility of overtaking safely. It's not the responsibility of the driver in front to let everyone behind him through.
A lot of folks are arguing that the crash was nothing but a racing incident, and while I’m inclined to agree, my agreement comes with the caveat that a penalty did need to happen here.
The crash was the result of a lot of bad luck. If Hamilton and Verstappen had both had quicker pit stops, they would never have come together on the track. But as things happened, they both ended up on the same part of the track at the same time. I can’t blame Hamilton for wanting to take advantage of coming out on the track just a hair in front of Verstappen. I can’t blame Verstappen for wanting to hold his position and keep Hamilton behind him. They’re both hungry championship contenders duking it out, which is great to see. They came together, which was a downer for both of them, and in most cases, I’d consider both losing points to be punishment enough.
But I also agree with one of my friends who posited that there would need to be a penalty issued, if only to prevent yet another one of these incidents happening again. Especially considering Verstappen’s reaction after the crash, where he told his team, “That’s what you get when you don’t leave me space.” The Dutch driver is aggressive, and his aggression has resulted in a take-no-prisoners attitude that can occasionally see him use a crash as a corrective measure against a competitor. I don’t agree with using an open-wheel car as a bumper car just to show that you’re pissed off at someone.
I also don’t agree with constantly imposing legislation on a title battle. But I also don’t agree with letting aggressive competitors consistently slip under the radar just because no one single incident was bad enough to warrant a penalty. There are also penalties that don’t impact the on-track action. If the Stewards want to penalize Verstappen, make him pay a fine, or do some community service, or take a class on dangerous driving, or spend a few minutes in a get-along shirt with Hamilton. Don’t deprive us of a great title fight when both competitors already suffered on the track.
(At the same time, maybe we’ll see some great Verstappen overtakes in Russia.)
It’s a tough one. It’s a decision that is absolutely going to be debated in a very partisan way, since both Verstappen and Hamilton have very enthusiastic fanbases. I want to know what you, the notoriously level-headed and nonpartisan readers of Jalopnik think. Was Verstappen deserving of his penalty?