The 2021 Formula 1 season has been packed full of controversial moments and action and the Brazilian Grand Prix was no different.
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton went wheel to wheel for the race lead shortly after the final pitstops, with Verstappen running both championship protagonists off the track at the Descida do Lago left-hander.
The stewards noted the incident but decided no investigation was necessary, a decision that infuriated Mercedes and led to a sarcastic response from Hamilton.
But what do our writers make of the incident as well as Hamilton’s monumental charge from 10th to first?
Hamilton has saved the stewards
I’ve been on the fence with Hamilton/Verstappen incidents this year and generally felt the blame has swayed a little bit from one to the other in different circumstances.
But the stewards have got away with what happened today.
This year there have been plenty of hard-to-judge incidents, not least between these two drivers, but I can’t think of any recent precedent that allows Verstappen to escape an investigation let alone a penalty.
Hamilton was making the corner at Turn 4 and Verstappen braked far too late. The only reason Hamilton went off-track is because Verstappen did.
It’s hard to understand how that doesn’t satisfy every possible interpretation of ‘forcing another driver off the track’. It just seemed like a slam dunk.
The only thing it was missing was contact but that can’t be a defining element of this regulation because it’s unreasonable. It means the car on the outside is being punished, effectively, for NOT turning in and causing a collision.
I think Hamilton has saved the stewards from a controversial and costly misjudgement.
That said, Mercedes will still feel aggrieved because Valtteri Bottas finished three seconds behind Verstappen, so would be second if Verstappen had got the usual five-second time penalty for forcing another driver off the track.
Too hard to say without Verstappen’s onboard
A vintage battle with an underlying edginess between the two camps which was reflected in Verstappen’s defence as Hamilton closed relentlessly on him.
Without seeing the in-car of Max as they both ran wide onto the Turn 4 run-off it’s difficult to say if that was a foul or not. But the extravagant weaving on the straight was certainly a little naughty.
It’s a relief that it didn’t involve the stewards ultimately though. This keeps it pure. It’s a title battle and it’s building to its crescendo.
With the sort of speed shown by Hamilton’s Mercedes this weekend, Verstappen will absolutely understand every single point counts despite his current cushion. Hamilton showed restraint and didn’t get involved in that incident, knowing he had the pace to do it again – the cap to a stunning performance over the weekend after that Friday qualifying disqualification.
A great victory. A faster car, yes. But still, a huge obstacle to overcome. A wonderful contest.
Relief that stewards allowed some leeway
If the Brazilian Grand Prix had been decided by a penalty for that Descida do Lago moment between Verstappen and Hamilton it would have been a travesty.
Yes, if there was fault to be found there, then Verstappen was responsible for them both going wide.
But if a championship contender in a slower car isn’t allowed to try to fend off an outside-line passing bid by their title rival in a much faster car by braking as late as possible down the inside, then Formula 1 would become a much less appealing sport to me.
The stakes are very, very high right now. I can’t imagine Hamilton would’ve done anything different had the roles been reversed (and I’m sure Verstappen/Red Bull would’ve complained about it in flipped circumstances). It’s the most intense F1 title battle in over a decade, some leeway has to be given and I’m mightily relieved the stewards did give it today.
And as for any ‘but if there’d been gravel or a wall there, Verstappen couldn’t have done that’ arguments… there wasn’t gravel or a wall and both drivers knew that and were driving accordingly.
All signs point to a last-race decider
Every time the championship seems poised to swing one way or the other, something happens to confound expectations. Hamilton’s victory after starting at the back of the sprint race is the latest example of that. What more evidence do you need that this is set to go down to the wire in Abu Dhabi?
The off-track politics and controversy is all part of that. This is a case of two teams of drivers going at it race after race, worn down by the battle but never letting the intensity or performance level slip. Neither will let go, or give any leeway to the other – just as we want it.
Verstappen and Red Bull still have the advantage and could afford a defeat, whereas it was almost a must-win for Hamilton and Mercedes even from the back. Expect this ebb and flow to continue for the next three race weekends.
Don’t dare predict anything other than it’s going to be dramatic.
Let’s accept the stewards’ decision
No matter who you support you have got to give Lewis credit for keeping his focus over a tough weekend. Twentieth to fifth over 24 laps in the sprint race and 10th to win the grand prix over 71 laps is a fantastic achievement. With all that overtaking to do, he was faultless.
He had 95 laps to make a mistake and run into someone – or get run into – but he brought it home and in reality the car only needs a polish and the Mercedes is ready for the next race.
As for the incident at Turn 4 between Max and Lewis, in the end, it didn’t matter, but the main problem we have now is everyone including myself has an opinion, the internet is so powerful that you can make or break a situation.
Personally, I think Max allowed his car to run a little wider than it needed to but with milliseconds to make decisions you can’t simply run rewind. The stewards are the referees so let’s accept their decisions.
Winning move a rare ‘proper overtake’
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one numb to Hamilton’s charge through the field in Saturday’s sprint race as he pressed a button and his only real conundrum was choosing to pass cars left or right.
That’s the DRS area for you.
I guess the only tonic to those arguing that overtaking was ‘better back then’ – probably in the ’70s or ’80s with rose tinted spectacles – is that many famous overtakes you can recall came in an era where the cars weren’t as close together on performance as they are now.
However, while Hamilton’s pass for the win on Sunday of course came with a heavy dose of DRS, it had its roots in what we’d call ‘proper’ overtaking, at least in my opinion.
It wasn’t the DRS alone that made the move possible, it was Hamilton selling Verstappen the fake at Turn 1. It takes a lot to fool Verstappen, but he ruined his Turn 1 braking and therefore his Turns 2 and 3 exit all because of the threat of Hamilton’s impending move down the inside at Turn 1, which came from quite far back and Verstappen felt he had to cover off.
The more colloquial term to describe it would be Hamilton ‘faked him out’ or ‘sold him a dummy’.
In a weekend filled with DRS ‘point and squirt’ overtakes, the winning move was at least one in the style of real overtaking.
And a special shoutout to another Hamilton move earlier in the race where he went around the outside of Pierre Gasly at Ferradura and Laranjinha on the first lap. Epic, even if Gasly had a wiggle on the inside.
This season’s most intense battle
There’s no getting away from it, Hamilton clearly drives better in the face of adversity.
He already had a point to prove after being disqualified from qualifying, but there’s no way being pushed off the track by Verstappen didn’t give him fresh impetus to ensure he found a way past the Red Bull for victory today.
Yes, Verstappen went right to the limit by sending both himself and Hamilton wide at Turn 4 – something that will no doubt generate further debate over the next week – but when Hamilton finally got the advantage down the back straight to make the move stick a few laps later, Verstappen didn’t attempt to do anything silly and gracefully accepted defeat.
For me, that was the most intense battle of the season so far, and if there’s more of this in the remaining three races then we are in for one of the greatest season finales in generations.