[raceweekendpromotion]Max Verstappen’s robust defensive move against Lewis Hamilton on lap 48 of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix was the latest in a series of controversial flashpoints between the two championship contenders.
To many it seemed Verstappen had gone too far with his defence. Hamilton had reached the braking zone ahead of him but Verstappen, on the inside, failed to make the corner. It seemed the Red Bull driver had forced his Mercedes rival off and prevented a legitimate overtaking attempt, which other drivers were penalised for doing in Austria.
Whether or not a penalty was warranted surely deserved to be investigated. Yet, surprisingly, the stewards decided not to do so. Race control first confirmed it was “noted” and later deemed not worthy of an investigation (this was contrary to what Mercedes told Hamilton on the radio and posted on social media at the time).
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff remained furious about the incident following the race, despite his team enjoying a win which extended their constructors championship lead and brought Hamilton closer to Verstappen in the drivers’ standings. Wolff called the failure to examine the incident “embarrassing” on television and “laughable” when he spoke to media including RaceFans.
Can the team force the stewards to reconsider their verdict? After all, even the slightest penalty for Verstappen could benefit them: A five-second time penalty would drop him to third place behind Valtteri Bottas, cutting another three points from Hamilton’s deficit, while a grid penalty would play into Mercedes’ hands this weekend.
Comments made by FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi seemed to offer Mercedes a glimmer of hope. Masi confirmed the stewards did not have access to a potentially significant piece of evidence at the time they decided not to investigate the incident. The stewards could only view the same television pictures broadcast on the world feed.
Although multiple onboard camera views are captured from cars, only one is transmitted live at a time. Verstappen’s view switched from forward-facing to rearward-facing just before Hamilton pulled out to overtake him.
Therefore the forward-facing onboard video from Verstappen’s car was not broadcast and was not seen by the stewards at the time they decided against investigating the incident. This is significant because, assuming the video later emerges, it potentially opens the door for Mercedes demand they review the incident.
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Teams have the right to request a review of a decision if “a significant and relevant new element
is discovered which was unavailable to the parties seeking the review at the time of the decision concerned”, according to the International Sporting Code. This has been wielded by F1 teams on several recent occasions.
Red Bull tried to use it after the British Grand Prix to force the stewards to give Hamilton a harsher penalty for his collision with Verstappen. They had reserve driver Alexander Albon reconstruct the incident during a filming day to generate data which they presented as ‘new evidence’. However the stewards disagreed this met the required standard and dismissed Red Bull’s request for a review.
Red Bull enjoyed far greater success the previous year in Austria when they persuaded the stewards to overturn their decision to clear Hamilton for failing to slow sufficiently for yellow flags during qualifying. The new evidence Red Bull presented was a camera angle which had not been available to the stewards when they made their original decision.
Are Mercedes therefore awaiting the appearances of Verstappen’s forward-facing onboard camera from Interlagos before they launch their own bid for a review? Possibly, but there is a potential snag.
Past petitions for review have targeted formal decision documents handed down by the stewards. At Silverstone Red Bull requested a review of (the appropriately-numbered) decision document 44 which handed a 10-second time penalty to Hamilton. Specific documents were also cited in past reviews: Alfa Romeo at Imola this year, Red Bull at Red Bull Ring last year, Williams at Baku in 2018 and so on.
However there is no corresponding document for yesterday’s incident because it was not investigated in the first place. It is not the case that the stewards investigated Verstappen and decided to take no action; there was no investigation. Therefore, in the eyes of the rule markers, does a formal decision exist which Mercedes can demand a review of?
But with Mercedes so rankled by the frustrations of last weekend, having seen the lengths Red Bull were prepared to go after Silverstone and with the championship at stake, that may not be enough to dissuade them from having a go. “Diplomacy has ended today,” said Wolff after the race, sounding unlike someone who is content to let the matter rest.
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