Max Verstappen was quick to alert his team when he suspected Lewis Hamilton had broken the rules during the Australian Grand Prix.
“Mate is this more than 10 car lengths?” Verstappen asked race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase. “Look, check it.” Failing to keep pace with the Safety Car almost cost Verstappen’s team mate Sergio Perez a win last year in Singapore, so it’s no wonder he was sensitive to it.
However those watching on the world feed were left unaware of Lambiase’s reply to his driver 15 seconds later which indicated Hamilton was doing nothing wrong:
Race leader Hamilton was particularly eager to let the Safety Car get ahead of him because of the circumstances of the race on lap nine. The race was about to resume from a standing start following a red flag.
Hamilton, like Verstappen and most of the drivers behind them, was about to take the restart the race on a set of hard tyres. Drivers seldom start races on the hard rubber, and all were eager to ensure they brought the compound up to temperature.
So as the cars followed the Safety Car out of the pit lane at the beginning of lap nine to resume the race, Hamilton was quick to ask his race engineer Peter Bonnington when he would be able to drop back from it in order to begin accelerating at braking more harshly in an attempt to force heat into his Pirellis:
While Verstappen was querying Hamilton’s tactics with his team an alarming near-miss behind them. Several cars dropped far behind the pack and had to brake suddenly when they caught it. Zhou Guanyu, Logan Sargeant and Kevin Magnussen all had to take evasive action to avoid hitting cars ahead of them, the latter ploughing through the gravel at the exit of turn six.
The stewards investigated the near-miss after the race and ruled it hadn’t been the result of Hamilton’s restart tactics. They concluded it arose due to George Russell making a late getaway from the pits when the Safety Car left.
In their verdict, the stewards made a point of stating Hamilton’s driving was in line with the rules. “In this case, car 44 [Hamilton] was the first car in line and when the safety car lights went out at turn six, dictated the pace by going very slowly (as the regulations entitled it to do).”
This wasn’t the only time during the race Verstappen pointed a finger at Hamilton’s driving. He also objected to his rival’s move at turn three on the first lap, when he lost a place to the Mercedes driver. On that occasion too, the stewards were apparently just as unmoved by his complaint.
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