Controversy and Max Verstappen tend to go hand-in-hand in Formula 1, and last weekend’s race in Austin, Texas was no exception. But was it an unfair call on the stewards part to dish out the five-second penalty to him, whilst others exploited track limits all weekend long? And are decisions like this damaging the sport?
There’s no way of denying that Verstappen made the overtake on Kimi Raikkonen with all four wheels off the track. In that respect, the stewards were merely following the rules. There should be no further comment. But things in Formula 1 are rarely so cut and dry. No sooner than a frustrated looking Verstappen had been escorted out of the podium room, there was social media uproar.
Immediately, there were questions asked about why Verstappen had been singled out for a penalty when others had done the same as him. It appeared that the majority of the anger about the situation was not the fact that he had been penalised, but why he was the only one.
Of course, there were shouts of the FIA being the ‘Ferrari International Assistance’, or that Verstappen had been targetted because they couldn’t have anyone under twenty-one years old drinking on the podium in ‘Merica (watch out Lance Stroll, they’re coming for you next). But the reality of it is that the stewards felt that this was the most appropriate course of action for Verstappen leaving the track and gaining an advantage. Whether you or I agree with this, it stands and it’s what happened.
Verstappen was understandably annoyed in his interviews but other than calling one steward an ‘idiot’, he was reasonably levelled headed about the whole situation and made some fair points in his defence. He acknowledged that the move was made off track, and therefore ‘against the rules’, but questioned the consistency of the distribution of penalties. He also wondered whether the FIA made decisions such as these to ‘kill the sport’.
This statement I have an issue with. It’s all well and good that Verstappen brings the entertainment factor to Formula One, but if the FIA start ignoring these rules JUST to have a good show, then where will the limit be? No, the FIA couldn’t dismiss Verstappen’s overtake, no matter how crowd-pleasing it was. Rules, however trivial, are rules.
The case thus stands that all drivers should have been penalised for abusing track limits, whether overtaking or not. But they weren’t. The only other penalties that were applied during the race (let’s not get into engine penalties) were to Marcus Ericsson for an odd tussle with Kevin Magnussen. What about the images of Carlos Sainz Jr. or Sebastian Vettel circulating, that show both very much off track. Surely they should have been penalised as well? This is the crux of the matter, and the part that myself and many other fans and drivers found tough to comprehend.
Maybe I’m in the minority who think Verstappen deserved the penalty. That’s not taking anything away from what was an outstanding drive, and a hugely deserved Driver of the Day, but conversely, had he not been penalised, there would have surely been some sort of uproar from Ferrari. It works both ways. What does surprise me is the ‘selective’ nature with which penalties are applied, and this isn’t something that was unique to this race. The FIA need to address their decision-making process, because there have been times this season where, once again, a stewarding call has been surrounded with controversy.
So, to try and draw this argument to some sort of conclusion, the decision made by the FIA to penalise Verstappen was necessary and not damaging to Formula One. Instead, the sport has been harmed by the decisions that have gone unmade. Why is there one set of rules for one and another set for the other? Either they are all penalised for the same thing, or none. Singling out Verstappen didn’t sit well with a lot of fans because it seemed like some sort of vendetta and punishment for fantastic driving. This isn’t the case as it could have been any driver in the same position. But until the FIA can implement a fairer system of penalisation, uproars will continue to happen, whether or not the driver deserved it.