You’d be forgiven for thinking the dust had settled on Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s controversial clash at the British Grand Prix, almost two weeks ago and everybody would have moved on.
But the debate over the 10-second penalty Mercedes’ Hamilton received continues to rage on with both Mercedes and Red Bull summoned to see the stewards in Hungary after the latter’s “petition to review” the penalty.
So is Red Bull going too far with its relentless pursuit of Hamilton’s penalty or does it have a case? Our writers give their verdict and describe the wider implications.
‘Proving’ Hamilton did it on purpose is only way to succeed
I’m fascinated to see what Red Bull try to claim is new and relevant evidence because based on their complaints up until this point there is nothing that would support a review.
The main Red Bull gripes have been over the leniency of the penalty and how much Red Bull disproportionately suffered – particularly the cost of the incident in a budget cap era.
But the stewards already determined it was Hamilton’s fault and punished him accordingly. If there are complaints about the leniency of the penalty I can only see the stewards reacting by telling Red Bull that the consequences of the offence don’t impact the penalty, and/or stating that it was consistent with similar decisions in the past.
So all I can think of is that Red Bull believe they have something from later in the race that shows a fundamental change in the circumstances of the clash – and surely that could only be evidence supporting the view that Hamilton did it on purpose.
I don’t think he did, and I’ve no idea how it could even be proved he did. But that’s all that makes sense to me IF the Red Bull end game really is to get the penalty increased. It’s the only thing I can think of that would get a harsher penalty.
If that’s the case then I’m quite fascinated to see what exactly they claim and how legitimate it is, lest it be viewed as a baseless and poor assertion about a fellow competitor.
Red Bull might be thinking ahead
I believe the motivation of the appeal is genuine. Red Bull feels aggrieved, not only for the lost result at Silverstone but also the very real impact the damage bill will have on their development plans under the cost cap – and possibly the penalty having to take an extra engine may incur.
These are very serious blows to a team desperately trying to win its first title in eight years.
It would be dangerous to second-guess what the outcome of the review might be, but historically such procedures have not led to post-race changes in results. But at some point down the line, Red Bull might be thinking about the grounds for not having the cost and any engine penalties associated with the accident to be imposed. This may be part of that process.
The saga has already been a PR disaster for Red Bull
One can understand the disappointment that they feel after coming off second best from a racing incident but digging in like this, in such a desperate manner, only goes to show that as a team, with the bigger picture in mind, it is less than robust.
The petition will likely be futile and only exacerbate its dwindling reputation inside and outside the paddock. This militant management style also won’t do it any favours with the FIA or promoters either.
All this will achieve is a distraction from Verstappen’s maiden title quest and ramp up the pressure on both his and the collective shoulders of RBR.
What is forgotten amid all of this too, is that Verstappen was guilty of a bigger picture strategic error in the incident too.
Had he given Hamilton a tiny bit of extra room he would have probably easily won that grand prix and now be looking at a sizeable points advantage.
Hamilton backed off in Bahrain earlier in the season and it paid off for him later. Verstappen didn’t and instead left with a headache, a diminished points lead and a team pursuing a vendetta that seems to be getting increasingly bitter.
They’ve probably also lost the neutrals now.
The dozen years in age between the two drivers has been, to me at least, more noticeable this season.
While Verstappen is still the favourite for the title, episodes like this only go to highlight that he and his team are still entirely capable of throwing it all away.
It’s a big statement of support to Verstappen
Red Bull as an F1 organisation clearly has a high opinion of itself, but I think even Horner, Marko and co. don’t expect to be able to force a retroactive change to an in-race penalty.
Rather, I suspect this is being done for the benefit of one person (and their entourage).
See Verstappen’s Hungarian GP preview quotes supplied by Red Bull. Among them is this: “The Team can take care of the official side of things and anything that needs looking into after the crash but my job is the same as always – to be the best I can and try to win on Sunday.”
Verstappen clearly felt extremely wronged by what happened on Sunday, and there’s no reason to believe those feelings have changed. Even if he didn’t actively request a protest, Red Bull may well have seen a prime opportunity to show its lead driver that he is valued and supported and that the team will go to great lengths to fight his corner.
And that giving Verstappen that kind of reassurance seems worth the hassle, even if the “petition for review” itself doesn’t come off.
Could this hurt Red Bull in the long run?
It’s difficult to see what Red Bull can realistically expect to get out of this request to review. Obviously, the desire is there for Hamilton’s penalty to be increased so he loses the victory but history indicates the chances of such an outcome are miniscule.
After all, before the penalty is even reviewed, Red Bull has to convince the stewards that it has genuine new evidence. A sense of injustice and a desire for a tougher penalty is not new evidence and the principal of the outcome not dictating the penalty is well-established. What it needs is a firm case based on tangible new information not available to the stewards at the time that sheds new light on the incident.
It might be that Red Bull genuinely does feel it has ‘smoking gun’ evidence, whatever that may be, in which case it’s understandable it will pursue this. Regardless of your position on what happened, the outcome was disastrous for Red Bull and Max Verstappen so they have every right to be unhappy with it and cannot and should not be expected simply to forget about it.
But given historical precedents, both for reviews and penalties in general, and the fact that the stewards did appear to accept that the passing attempt was legitimate but missing the apex was the problem, it would need something compelling for them to revise that interpretation.
Even if the review is rejected, you might ask what Red Bull loses other than a bit of time and maybe some legal fees. But there could come a point later in the season when the boot is on the other foot in an incident and vehement arguments will be remembered.
If Red Bull does get an increase in Hamilton’s penalty, it will be an inspired move because all’s fair in love, war and a world championship fight. But the caveat that we don’t yet know exactly what evidence will be submitted, it seems a desperate long shot that could even weaken its hand in future cases.
It’s a no-brainer for Red Bull, even if it loses
Part of the game in any sport is to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of an advantage over your rivals. That’s probably what’s going on here with Red Bull. The stakes are so high. Effectively, it’s don’t ask, don’t get.
That’s not to suggest the request from Red Bull is totally frivolous, as it has to bring something new to the table to get the investigation reopened. Clearly the team feels it can do that, although given how high-profile this incident was, it seems unlikely that anything could be uncovered that will completely change the perspective on it.
I don’t think it’s mind games. I don’t think it’s an attempt to destabilise Mercedes. It’s a ‘hail Mary’. A last-ditch attempt to reduce the damage in the championship, and Red Bull’s final way of ramming home the point about how upset it is about this whole thing.
Red Bull has nothing to lose by taking this as far as it can.
Taking on the FIA can bite you
It’s always a very difficult situation when anyone wants to take on the FIA. These in-race incidents and the resultant penalties are mainly based on instant reaction from the information available at the time, so with time and hindsight the conclusions might turn out different. But if that was to happen for all penalties, it would be weeks before we knew the race results.
When you challenge the FIA, it’s very easy for it to turn around and bite you on the bum. It has happened to us at Jordan with the Eddie Irvine incident in Brazil in 1994 when a one-race ban very quickly turned into a three-race ban when we appealed.
Red Bull may have some new information, but I don’t see how it will change the outcome of Hamilton’s penalty. What good would it do anyone to go back and double it or give him a drive-through or something else?
It has happened, penalty served and he drove the race to get the best result he could. If the penalty on the day had been different then he would probably have driven differently to, again, get the best result out of that race.
My opinion is that Hamilton deserved a penalty. He got it, served it and went on to win the race with a commanding drive.
The thing I would be looking closely at is the degree of the penalty, or penalties in general. Should it be possible for a driver to get a penalty and still go on to win the race in this sort of situation? Yes we want to see racing but it should be that bit more difficult to achieve this.
The FIA says that the penalty is applied for the action that generated the accident rather than the outcome. I would suggest it should be relative to the degree of incident.