Schmidt’s F1 blog on the chaos at the Saudi GP No clear line
If the term chaos race was ever valid, it was at the GP premiere in Saudi Arabia. The chaos was also fomented by race control and the stewards, says Michael Schmidt. With the second penalty for Max Verstappen you make yourself vulnerable.
Should we be happy about a race like the GP Saudi Arabia? From the reporter’s point of view yes. There is much to tell, to clarify, to criticize. And it has added another curious chapter to this incredible World Championship story. One that you can’t even think of anymore. A safety car, two red flags, two restarts, two horse-trades between race control and Red Bull, a rear-end collision between the world championship rivals and an ending with penalties. It’s certainly not easy to be a race director or a sports commissioner, but at times that evening you got the impression you were at a club race.
The errors and confusions that this race has taken can all be accepted. But both penalties had an aftertaste. The first, because it was given even though Max Verstappen wanted to give up the place to Lewis Hamilton three times. The second, because it is based on a serious error in thinking. No wonder Christian Horner finds sympathizers with his thesis that all decisions always go against Red Bull.
Chessing hurts sport
One thing should have become clear to every observer of this sport. This Max Verstappen is quite a tough cookie. He still basically drives like he’s sitting in a kart. Elbows out, eyes closed and hoping for the best. The track is mine. And if you fight back, you have to expect the fight to continue off the track. You can like it or not. You can oppose it or not. Perhaps Verstappen’s opponents have backed off too often. If someone puts a wheel in him the third time, there won’t be a fourth time.
The five-second penalty is fine in principle. Even if Verstappen defends himself with the fact that Hamilton was also off the track. But he himself pushed him there in the first place. It is still acceptable to offer a deal to Red Bull: Either five seconds or let it pass. Then Verstappen wants to pass, once, twice, three times and still gets a penalty.
Okay, the first time went wrong. But Hamilton was not completely innocent of that. The second time doesn’t count because Verstappen used the same farmer’s trick as his opponent did in Spa in 2008. But at the third time the place swap was accomplished, even if with plentifully delay. The five seconds didn’t change the result anyway. Verstappen would have lost the race anyway.
The back and forth leaves an aftertaste that is not good for business. Because there is no clear line to be seen in it. Because it was a bit reminiscent of horse-trading like before the second re-start. Then everyone could listen to the radio traffic between the race control and Red Bull. Go back one place and we forget Verstappen’s action on the first re-start. Oh sorry, two places after all. Behind Hamilton in any case. Give us time to think, they said at Red Bull. Only to agree to the swap of places after all. It was reminiscent of haggling at an Arab bazaar. Perhaps the participants felt encouraged by the location.
Justification misses the reality
The inglorious highlight, however, was Verstappen’s second time penalty, which Red Bull received two hours after crossing the finish line. Verstappen was blamed for most of the rear-end collision because he slowed down first and then slammed on the brakes again when Hamilton didn’t want to pass. The sports commissioners exonerated Hamilton on the grounds that, for understandable reasons, he did not want to overtake Verstappen before the DRS measuring point so as not to run into a counterattack on the home straight.
Did I miss something? Allegedly Hamilton didn’t know anything about Verstappen passing him by. So he does not have to worry about the DRS line. Because it is then completely irrelevant to him. Verstappen could also have been forced to slow down due to a technical problem. Would Hamilton then also have waited until the DRS measuring point? Hardly.
So either he knew something, then he must not wait directly in the slipstream of the Red Bull until the line comes. Because he has to reckon with Verstappen letting him go first under all circumstances. Or he did not know anything. Then there’s no reason to wait behind Verstappen. Then Hamilton has only himself to blame. If he had accepted Verstappen’s first invitation, the braking maneuver would not have happened at all.