Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Interlagos, 2021

How Hamilton beat Verstappen’s ‘Interlagos lunge’ in Jeddah, and what it means for the finale

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen’s lap 48 lunge down the inside of championship rival Lewis Hamilton at Interlagos was a defining moment in the turning championship contest between the pair.

With Hamilton’s Mercedes increasingly difficult to resist in a straight line, Verstappen has pushed the limit of the regulations ever further in his efforts to keep his rival behind. He wielded a controversial new technique in Brazil which worked on that occasion, but did not when he repeated it in Jeddah.

Verstappen had lost the lead of the race to Hamilton when they shot towards Descida do Lago on the 48th lap of the race. The Mercedes had pulled fully ahead on his outside as they approached the left-hander.

The Red Bull driver retaliated by leaving his braking impossibly late, skating well wide of the corner. Hamilton, who at least partly saw this coming, was able to avoid hitting the Red Bull, but ran wide with him.

It was revealing that the stewards’ decision to let Verstappen’s move stand – indeed, they didn’t even investigate it – prompted consternation even among rivals with no stake in the title fight. The likes of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jnr pointed out how similar past moves had attracted penalties, not been met with a ‘play on’.

Hamilton put one over Verstappen in Jeddah fight
Verstappen therefore had every reason to attempt exactly the same move the next time Hamilton attacked him in a similar fashion, which was on lap 37 at Jeddah. The corner configurations were different – Jeddah a left-right chicane compared to the double-left at Descida do Lago – but Verstappen’s technique was comparable.

He was therefore dismayed to be told later in the lap to relinquish his lead to Hamilton. As was the case with the conversation between FIA F1 race director Michael Masi and Red Bull’s sporting director Jonathan Wheatley during an earlier stoppage, this was likely a matter of the team being advised to do so, on the understanding the incident would otherwise be investigated. Following a botched attempt to hand the position back to Hamilton. Verstappen was duly penalised.

Verstappen immediately questioned the apparent inconsistency in the handling of the two incidents after the race. “He had the run, a bit like Brazil, and of course I braked late and I think I got a little bit off-line at one point and I had a moment, so I went wide.

“But he also didn’t make the corner so we both basically missed the corner and I don’t think it’s fair to then just say that I get a penalty.”

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Having not had the chance to study Hamilton’s perspective of the incident when he made those remarks, Verstappen wouldn’t have seen the key difference in his rival’s response to the attack which likely explains why the outcomes weren’t the same.

In Brazil at a higher-speed corner, Hamilton ran wide with Verstappen, maintained his momentum, and ensured he lost as little ground as possible to his rival. In Jeddah, at a slower corner, his reaction to being forced wide by Verstappen was the exact opposite.

Screenshot: Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton on lap 48 of the 2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix
Penalty Box: Did the stewards take the correct decision over Hamilton and Verstappen at turn four?
Instead of following his rival through the run-off, minimising his time loss again, Hamilton reduced his speed further and turned sharply to rejoin the track as swiftly as he could. Doing so ensured he made the apex for the following corner, which Verstappen didn’t get anywhere near. Hamilton therefore made it inescapably obvious how much time Verstappen’s lunge had cost him.

Could Hamilton have done the same in Jeddah? Verstappen’s team principal suggested so, drawing a comparison to the first-lap sparring between Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas: “If Lewis would have been smart he would have gone for the cut back like Checo did on Valtteri.”

Brazil and Jeddah were punch and counter-punch between the title contenders: Verstappen devised a new tactic which Hamilton figured out a response to. With areas of the rule book which once seemed certain now apparently vague, their combat methods are evolving from race to race.

With Verstappen lining up on pole position for today’s finale on soft tyres and Hamilton immediately behind on more durable mediums, it’s not hard to imagine the same circumstances we saw in Jeddah may repeat today. However for the last race of the season there is another dimension in play.

On Thursday before this weekend’s race Masi reminded everyone involved that the stewards retain their power to confiscate points for behaviour “contrary to sporting ethics”. Previously Verstappen could bank on Hamilton backing out of a collision as his rival needed to score more points to reduce his lead.

But with the title hanging in the balance this weekend, the stewards aren’t about to penalise either driver with a grid penalty for next year’s Bahrain Grand Prix if they take the other guy out, for obvious reasons. That may embolden Hamilton to be more robust with a driver who has tested his resolve sorely in the races leading up to their decisive contest.

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2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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19 comments on “How Hamilton beat Verstappen’s ‘Interlagos lunge’ in Jeddah, and what it means for the finale”

  1. This is exactly the kind of articles that are the reason for the partisan attitude in this forum.
    Nothing happened there, except more inconsistent stewarding.
    But now it’s a defining moment in the championship. Ridiculous!

    1. Actually i think the article was spot on.

    2. Yes, the stewarding will decide the championship. This is terrible. But reacting to that by not writing about it would be worse

    3. Nothing happened there, except more inconsistent stewarding.

      It was inconsistent in Brazil. In Jeddah it was gaining an advantage whilst off track.

  2. I think the move in Jeddah was less clear cut than in Brazil, but the outcome in Jeddah (told to concede the place or get penalised) was correct and was what should have been applied in Brazil as well.

    The reason I see this one as less clear cut is for two reasons. Firstly, Max is much more alongside in the braking zone in Jeddah, almost exactly level to be honest. Secondly, it looks more like a genuine error (it looked like the rear of the car really didn’t want to turn in and instead wanted to slide) than Brazil, which I think was more calculated. Again, like Brazil, we only have the rear facing onboard from Max, but the way that car turned in (or rather didn’t turn in) looks more like the rear not cooperating than in Brazil

    1. Yes, Jeddah didn’t look like a deliberate attempt to collide, but a reckless error. Regardless, drivers don’t get away penalty free just because they unintentionally broke the rules. The Jeddah penalty was fine, but Brazil should have been even more than just a place swap penalty (which wasn’t even handed out). It was a tactical attempt to crash and should have been penalized severely. Monza’s 3 place grid penalty was also far too light. As for the brake check, you know that Max was basically given a free pass when even Ralph Schumacher called the punishment “mild.”

    2. I agree on both counts. In the end it’s the FIA’s responsibility to clear this up, I’m guessing they thought ‘it’s nearly the end of the season, lets wait and clarify it over the winter so we don’t have to apologise for the stewards’ cock-up’.

    3. The FIA didn’t want to penalize so they used the excuse that they both ran off.
      In Jeddah they didn’t have that escape option.
      No mention was made of the unsafe return to the race track and blocking Ala Vettel Canada.

  3. Karun did a great comparison of approaches and this very Max tactic on Sky.

  4. “If Lewis would have been smart he would have gone for the cut back like Checo did on Valtteri.”

    If Lewis was smart, he’d have won Brazil, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
    Oh. He did. Hmm.

  5. “He wielded a controversial new technique in Brazil which worked on that occasion, but did not when he repeated it in Jeddah”

    Sending one in isn’t a ‘new technique’ :)

  6. Just stop letting them give the place back. The team bosses and drivers think they can control the process as it suits them and it’s getting dangerous. Like deleting a tweet, the offence still happened. A penalty’s a penalty, make them go in the pits.

  7. The way you keep going on about this incident Keith…

  8. Jay (@slightlycrusty)
    12th December 2021, 12:08

    Formula One has rules, it should either enforce them consistently or remove them. If all 20 drivers raced like Verstappen we’d see overtakes on every lap of the race as drivers would drive off circuit to overtake those in front, or push their rivals off-track. I don’t believe this would improve the show, it just leave viewers (and drivers) confused about what’s allowed in the sport. I hope the FIA takes Jolyon Palmer’s advice (in a recent BBC podcast) and takes a leaf out of football’s book: F1 needs professional referees, highly-trained and highly-experienced, just like the World Cup uses; the current system isn’t working well.

    1. Football can stop play, motor racing can’t. There’s a key difference. There will always be a greay area in motorsport because the ‘pitch’ changes. Corners are different. Speeds are different. RUn offs are different.

      1. Telemetry is or can be real-time.

  9. If anyone believes the moves by Max in Brazil and Saudi are just hard racing then they’re lying to themselves. This doesn’t mean that Max doesn’t deserve to win the championship, of course it doesn’t. To get to where’s they are, they obviously both deserve it. Let’s see what happens and try to enjoy it

    1. When you have acres of run off you HAVE to send one in otherwise what’s the point of being a race driver. Any driver with an ounce of self-respect would have done the same thing. Hamilton included.

  10. If the stewards can’t see that a driver didn’t plan to make a corner with the speed they are carrying then the stewards are better off staying at home.

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