It was on turn four, lap 48 last weekend in Brazil when Max Verstappen forced Lewis Hamilton off the track, an incident that stewards “noted” during the race before, shortly thereafter, deciding that no investigation was necessary. This, obviously, didn’t sit well with Mercedes, even though Hamilton still went on to win the race.
The incident was not the first bit of controversy between the two this season, nor is it likely to be the last. But this one, to me, felt like one of the easier calls, despite stewards mucking up the process a bit by admitting after the race that they had not seen all of the footage before making their decision.
Formula 1 later released one crucial bit: Footage from the forward-facing camera on Verstappen’s car, which did not show any kind of flick over towards Hamilton, but instead seemed to be a case of a driver who braked too late, overextended his car, and simply couldn’t make the turn. The fact that two did not collide is probably a testament to them both also knowing that a DNF at this stage in the competition might be fatal to their championship chances.
At any rate, on Friday, the racing stewards announced they had denied the Mercedes’ team’s request for a “Right to Review,” effectively putting the matter to bed and eliminating the possibility of any sanction against Verstappen.
Part of stewards’ statement, via Formula1.com:
Their statement said: “The stewards often must make a decision quickly and on a limited set of information. At the time of the decision, the stewards felt they had sufficient information to make a decision, which subsequently broadly aligned with the immediate post‐race comments of both drivers involved.
“Had they felt that the forward‐facing camera video from Car 33 [Verstappen] was crucial in order to take a decision, they would simply have placed the incident under investigation – to be investigated after the race – and rendered a decision after this video was available. They saw no need to do so.”
This is probably for the best, given that fans, more than anything, will want to see this year’s championship decided on the track and not by a 50-50 rules decision. Verstappen currently has a 14 point lead with three races to go. Verstappen had easily the best lap time during Friday’s first practice session in Qatar, with Hamilton finishing with just fourth-best, though Mercedes had to retire Hamilton’s car early with some kind of power issue. Three races left to go, and no one knows who has the edge.