Was Max Verstappen's Saudi Arabian GP Performance 'Over the Limit'?
Jeddah's fast streets served up the most intense round of Verstappen vs Hamilton yet...
Courtesy - RACEFANS.net
Saudi Arabia's Formula 1 debut definitely made quite an impact on an already dramatic 2021 championship. The race served up red flags, safety cars, and plenty of tension as after 50 laps of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, even teams and drivers were utterly confused at what we just witnessed. The two championship rivals took center stage once again and came together on track not once, not twice, but on three separate occasions leading to a messy end to the Grand Prix. The penultimate race of the season saw tensions between Verstappen and Hamilton reach boiling hot levels as the fight to become World Champion in 2021 nears its finish. But was Max Verstappen's driving in Jeddah going too far or was it just hard racing we've come to expect from the Dutchman? And were the events in Jeddah preventable had the FIA done its job properly? Well in today's video, we're going to analyze the evidence by looking at on-boards, team radio's and more to give you guys the best view of all the incidents so that at the end of this article, you can answer the two previous questions in the comment section down below!
Turn 1 Incidents
Courtesy - Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team
Let's first begin by looking at the two standing start restarts which brought forth the incidents between Hamilton and Verstappen. After Mick Schumacher's crash at Turn 22, the red flag was brought out to repair the barriers which meant that Verstappen would not only remain in P1 by having stayed out during the safety car period, but he would also get a free tyre change in the pitlane. Starting on the hard tyres on Lap 15, Verstappen got a poor launch while Hamilton to the left of him made a brilliant start and claimed the right to the corner going into Turn 1. Now Hamilton slightly misses the apex of one which forces him deep into the corner as Verstappen was trying to sweep around the outside. Much like their incident in Monza, it is quite difficult to overtake on the outside of Jeddah;s tight turn 1 and 2 complex so Verstappen went off-track and gained a position. The carnage that happened behind the pair involving Perez, Leclerc, and Mazepin resulted in another red flag but this is where the FIA started to get involved. During the red flag period, race director Michael Masi offered Red Bull the chance to give the place back to Hamilton on the restart or keep the place and refer the incident to the stewards for investigation. This radio call puzzled even the most experienced of F1 pundits, when was the last time the FIA negotiated stewarding decisions? The lap 15 incident was never officially investigated as Red Bull accepted Masi's 'offer' and it setup another standing start on lap 17 of Ocon, Hamilton, and Verstappen in third. This time Verstappen started on the medium tyre and it gave him just the advantage he needed. In a make or break move, Verstappen sent one down the inside to take the lead as Hamilton and Ocon made contact on the outside. It was a risky maneuver as Verstappen nearly collected the wall on his left hand side but he saw and gap and made the most out of the opening left by Hamilton. This unfortunately would not be the last incident between the two under the lights in Jeddah.
Courtesy - Red Bull Content Pool
As the race settled down, we were in for another Austin style showdown of Verstappen and Hamilton going head to head in what was a mind-boggling pace. The battle however was soured with numerous virtual safety car periods due to debris on the track from other incidents. The final VSC that was caused by loose Aston Martin debris came at the wrong time for Verstappen as Hamilton got DRS by the end of lap 36. Hamilton used all of his mighty Mercedes power to overtake Verstappen just slightly as they entered the braking zone. In a move which looked similar to that of Interlagos a few weeks ago, Verstappen carries more speed into the corner and loses the rear of the car on exit forcing him off-track once again. Hamilton is forced to take avoiding action and hop over the kerbs of Turn 2 and remain in second place. Oddly enough, we only have Verstappen's rear facing on-board to analyze as the F1TV feed switches to the front facing camera only after Max had gone wide into Turn 2. This incident was investigated by the stewards in which Verstappen was handed a 5 second penalty for leaving the track and gaining a lasting advantage. This penalty however only came after the calamity of the incident in which we'll analyze next...
The Lap 37 Collision
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Before we could even catch out collective breaths after another Verstappen/Hamilton coming together, it was only a few corners later in which the jaws of the collective F1 community dropped. In what we can only assume was another 'negotiation' between the FIA and the teams, Max's race engineer instructs him to let Hamilton past. The miscommunication between the FIA and teams led to Hamilton smashing into the back of Verstappen and damaging his front wing. Luckily for Hamilton, the damage didn't seem to phase him as he went on to set multiple fastest laps with his damaged car. Well into the Arabian night, the stewards met with both parties and rendered a decision on the collision. They deemed Verstappen to be predominantly at fault and they handed him an additional 10 second time penalty which meant that he still kept P2. The stewards decision reads; "At turn 21 the driver of car 33 was given the instruction to give back a position to car 44 and was told by the team to do so “strategically”. Car 33 slowed significantly at turn 26. However, it was obvious that neither driver wanted to take the lead prior to DRS detection line 3. The driver of Car 33 stated that he was wondering why Car 44 had not overtaken and the driver of Car 44 stated that, not having been aware at that stage that Car 33 was giving the position back, was unaware of the reason Car 33 was slowing. In deciding to penalize the driver of Car 33, the key point for the Stewards was that the driver of Car 33 then braked suddenly (69 bar) and significantly, resulting in 2.4g deceleration."
The added telemetry from the FIA is something that many fans do not have access too so it helps us explain what happened. The telemetry and data reviewed by the FIA determined that Verstappen had braked too suddenly which caused the collision and warranted the standard 10 second penalty. What's confusing and contradictory of the FIA document is they go on to state that; "Whilst accepting that the driver of Car 44 could have overtaken Car 33 when that car first slowed, we understand why he (and the driver of Car 33) did not wish to be the first to cross the DRS." It is puzzling as to why Hamilton didn't overtake his slow moving rival right away and this admission from the stewards might lead some to believe that both Hamilton and Verstappen were playing a game of DRS cat and mouse that ended horribly but we'll let you be the judge.
Was Verstappen Over the Limit?
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Complaints of penalties and decisions from the FIA has been raging on ever since race one and you get the feeling the lap 37 incident between the two could've been avoided had the FIA handled it properly. Here's a thought; if Michael Masi would've given the instruction to both teams ahead of time to have Verstappen let Lewis overtake, it could've been orchestrated at the scene of the initial incident in Turn 1 on the next lap. This would've given both teams plenty of time to inform their drivers and it would've been like a standard team order car swap and all of this drama could have been avoided. The decision making from the FIA this weekend was puzzling to say the least and that's one topic I'm sure even the Verstappen/Hamilton fans can agree on. But stewarding aside, you couldn't help but notice this was one of Verstappen's worst weekends of 2021. An uncharacteristic mistake in qualifying really seemed to set the stage for him in the race which he was very agitated and emotional. Could it have been the pressure of being 50 laps away from clinching his first world title? We'll never know but the Verstappen we saw in Jeddah was far from the cool and clinical driver who's led most of this championship. Verstappen's Senna like style of driving is a breath of fresh air in modern F1 and its this approach that has enabled him to be a contender. But this race shows that going full throttle in every occasion literally and figuratively is not always the best approach. In the end, it wasn't all a loss as he still finished in second and matched the record for most podiums in a season with 17. He now heads to Abu Dhabi level on points with his arch rival and a simple prospect in order to win the championship, just finish ahead of Hamilton. It was a messy race that everyone will like to forget quickly but it is important to focus on what matters, this spectacular 2021 championship. For the first time since 1974, two title contenders enter the final race level on points. Just as it was in race number one in Bahrain, we have no idea who will win the championship as we enter race 21 in a few days time.