GRR

F1 has a blame problem

13th September 2021
Ben Miles

Max Verstappen should not have received a penalty for the collision that ended both his and Lewis Hamilton’s races at Monza. Lewis Hamilton should not have received a penalty for the incident that ended Max Verstappen’s race at Silverstone. F1 has a problem with blame.

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Ask any racing driver who was at fault for a particular incident and they will pretty much always point the finger at the other driver, it’s the classic cliché of “racing driver excuses”. But they aren’t always, or in fact most of the time aren’t, correct.

The principle of a “racing incident” is not actually a tricky one to define. It’s a clash between two drivers where the fault is not wholly or majority on one side. When Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton bumped together at the second Monza chicane back in 2018 it ended Vettel’s race, but in reality it wasn’t either driver at fault – between them they got into a position where it wasn’t realistic for them both to take the chicane, Vettel got on the gas and ended up facing the other way.

On Sunday two drivers entered the Retifilo chicane at Monza both fighting for the F1 World Championship and neither of them managed to exit it, and it wasn’t either one who specifically caused it. Hamilton could have given Verstappen more space, Verstappen could have taken to the escape road when he saw the gap narrowed. Neither did, they hit.

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In the same way that the fact that Max Verstappen ended up in the barriers at Silverstone should be irrelevant to discussing the actual incident, the fact that he ended up riding Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and clipping the seven-time champion’s helmet should also not be discussed. How they acted afterward is also completely and utterly irrelevant to discussions of the incident.

But in the last few years F1 has driven itself down a path of blame. If there is a big incident more often than not someone needs to be blamed and someone needs to be punished.

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As far as I can see it really began to get ridiculous was in 2008, when the fraught championship battle between McLaren and Ferrari saw blame thrown around for incidents everywhere. That resulted in the famous incident at Spa between Hamilton and Kimi Räikkönen. That was, as far as I was concerned, sorted out on track, until the FIA stepped in and decided to change the result. But later in the season Hamilton was handed a penalty for merely locking his brakes into the first corner at Fuji. No contact was made, it wasn’t an incident to speak of, but suddenly he was penalised.

From then the blame game just seems to get stronger and stronger, with penalties for “incidents” thrown around all over the place like candy.

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F1 seems to have lost all perspective. The drivers have asked for more leniency on a bit of contact and the powers that be say they have, so there’s a bit more banging of wheels than perhaps there used to be, which is fine, but then stewards are throwing penalties out again. It’s a confusion that is not reaching Formula E levels of nonsense, but is getting too much.

Everyone needs to take a breather. I appreciate that really isn’t possible in 2021 with social media the be all and end all of communication, and I realise I’m possibly part of the problem as a journalist who regularly uses social media to spout opinions, but some people on all sides need to take a step back and think about whether they are helping.

At the end of the day we’re lying if we claim we don’t like to see the championship protagonists coming together. It’s great telly, it’s dramatic and that’s why we love sport. And if they are to truly battle hard as we’ve been crying out for for years they will, at times, get too close. But after that you don’t need to blame someone, you don’t need to call for penalties and you definitely don’t need to call for bans.

We all need some perspective.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Formula 1

  • F1 2021

  • Lewis Hamilton

  • Max Verstappen

  • Monza

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