Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were once again at the centre of controversy in Formula 1 this week.
After Hamilton’s win around the inaugural Saudi Arabia Grand Prix, he has drawn level with Verstappen on points going into the final race, the first time this has happened this 1974.
But yesterday saw the championship tensions boil over onto a nasty and ugly affair, with one driver in particular to blame for it.
Verstappen has always been an aggressive driver, it’s part of his nature and no one would change that for the world as more often than not it makes him a better driver.
However, Sunday’s race around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit was one of those occasions it was not a good thing. The blind corners and narrow streets of F1’s newest track were dangerous enough under normal circumstances, but add in reckless and frankly dangerous driving into the mix and you have a recipe for potential disaster.
Luckily, the worse case scenario was avoided, but only just. Following orders relayed from the FIA to give Hamilton back first place, after the Red Bull had run him off the road a few laps before, Verstappen slowed down far too much on the straight and was tagged by Hamilton, which caused wing damage for the seven-time world champion.
The stewards later deemed the Dutchman to have been “erratic” in their report of the incident and handed Verstappen a 10-second time penalty and two penalty points on his super pro licence, bringing him up to seven.
However, part of the blame should be directed towards Michael Masi and race control who failed to clearly communicate what was happening to both teams in a timely fashion, with Red Bull being relaying the information and implementing it before Mercedes were aware of what was going on.
This miscommunication almost caused a serious accident, but Verstappen still shouldn’t have broke where he did.
By breaking in the middle of the track and then seeming to turn left, where Hamilton would have naturally gone provided with the space to do so, Verstappen endangered not only Hamilton but also himself. There is no point in racing so hard all season and coming so far only have all that hard work wasted due to a twitchy accelerator pedal.
And this wasn’t a one off incident across the weekend. While he of course has every right to push the car to it’s upper limit, as seen in his final near perfect lap in qualifying that resulted in him hitting the wall on the final turn following a lock up, it should not be at the expense of endangering others.
Following the first restart of the race, Hamilton had beaten his rival to turn one, but Verstappen ran him off road, resulting in race control telling him to give the position back. Verstappen did the same thing a few laps before the pair collided, with Hamilton beating Verstappen to the apex and then being pushed off road by an over zealous Verstappen defence.
There is a fine line between racing hard and being a danger to those around you, and that line has been toed ever so carefully this season, with some of the most exciting wheel to wheel races in the turbo hybrid era occurring this very season.
It cannot be stated enough that both have had controversial decisions go their way throughout the year, but that cannot be an excuse for the reckless driving on display during the race yesterday.