This year's Formula One championship could have been all but decided last weekend at the São Paulo Grand Prix. Global audiences saw what looked like Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen blatantly running Mercedes-AMG's Sir Lewis Hamilton off the track—but the race director didn't see things that way, and didn't penalize the Dutchman. Now, though, Verstappen's onboard footage has finally come to light, and it shows enough that Mercedes-AMG F1 considers the video damning enough to challenge F1's verdict.
The controversial incident occurrent on lap 48 when Hamilton tried to pass Verstappen for the race lead outside turn four, only for Verstappen to run very wide and off the track in what looked like a dirty block. Had Hamilton committed to the line he was entitled to by being alongside Verstappen, there could have been a collision that ended one or both drivers' races, and made Hamilton's points deficit even harder to overcome in the three Grands Prix remaining this year.
Race director Michael Masi examined the encounter, and determined no investigation was necessary, stating on broadcast he "obviously had a good look at it." Later, however, Masi admitted that he, like global TV audiences, hadn't watched it from onboard Verstappen's car—he had made the call without seeing the corner from the Red Bull's perspective.
"It hasn't been obtained yet. It's been requested," Masi told RaceFans on Sunday. "It's only the cameras that are broadcast is basically what we have access to throughout the week."
Masi acknowledged that viewing the onboard could "potentially, absolutely" change the ruling, adding that "once the commercial rights holder supplies it, we'll have a look."
Tuesday morning, that footage finally came out, and it shows Verstappen never applied enough steering angle to even suggest he expected to make the corner. Verstappen only tightens his steering well after missing the apex—after Hamilton had been forced to back out of his attempted pass—and gets back on the throttle sooner, before even leaving the asphalt. This is not what a racing driver struggling to control understeer does. That Verstappen didn't lock either front tire doesn't help his case, and makes one thing clear: Verstappen drove Hamilton off the track, and got off scot-free.
So far, anyway, as Mercedes-AMG F1 tweeted Tuesday morning that it has requested the incident be reviewed. It's not yet clear what sort of penalty Verstappen could face if F1 reverses its decision; a retroactive time penalty would influence the finishing order, and thus the championship. Valtteri Bottas finished only about three seconds adrift of the Dutchman and would inherit three of his points if such a penalty were applied, narrowing Verstappen's drivers' championship lead to 11 points and extending Mercedes' constructors' lead to 17.
Potentially more painful, however, could be a grid penalty, as F1's next stop is at Losail International Circuit for the (highly questionable) Qatar Grand Prix. It's F1's first visit to the track, which could shake up the running order, and not necessarily to Red Bull's advantage.
But what's clear beyond a doubt is that there are issues with how F1 is handling investigations mid-race. Now that we know the race director is making calls based on woefully incomplete information, it calls into question how many other rulings have been botched in recent races—or seasons. It might do something to explain F1's painfully inconsistent penalties, though.
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