One of the frustrating elements of an otherwise excellent 2016 season has been regulatory inconsistencies. The rulebook has been evolving over the year, with modifications coming on a near-weekly basis.
Unprecedented levels of tinkering have given way to stewards decisions that more often than not set the precedents as opposed to following them. They have been redefining the goalposts week in, week out.
The Mexico Grand Prix featured inconsistencies within the same race and I can fully understand Max Verstappen’s frustration at being stripped of third place when all things are considered.
When speaking to Sky F1, assessing the stewards decision to demote him off of the podium, Verstappen argued,”I didn’t gain an advantage. When I came back on track I was the same length in front so I think it’s ridiculous.”
Crucially, he added, “Lewis [Hamilton] gained a massive advantage [at the start]”
Ultimately, stewarding is an art of interpreting the rules and, as such, decisions are based on opinions. How events are perceived by what is an ever changing panel, will always vary from race to race. It is the nature of the task.
However, when one race features blatant inconsistencies that’s when the problems start. Verstappen has an excellent point when he says Hamilton gained a far greater advantage from his excursion at turn one on the very first lap, than he did in his off-track moment.
Hamilton defendants have argued that he was not under threat when he made his error under braking. In reality, Rosberg’s relative position versus Hamilton was very similar to Vettel’s versus Verstappen, as the overhead shots demonstrate.
Admittedly, incidents on the first lap often induce leniency from the stewards, who appreciate the ‘busy’ nature of a race start. Yet, in this instance, Hamilton’s rally driving saw him build an enormous lead, albeit eradicated by the Safety Car.
The deployment of said Safety Car still doesn’t correct the fact that Rosberg could well have mounted a significant challenge to Hamilton, if not with his positioning at turn one, but with an excellent trajectory to mount an attack into turn four. Lewis’ short-cut ensured that Nico wouldn’t be a threat.
In not penalising Hamilton – or even investigating his rally driving – they have surely established a dangerous precedent.
“Under pressure at turn one? Worried you might lose the lead by turn two? Take a trip through your local run-off area and see all your troubles disappear from view…”
In allowing Hamilton to take to the grass at turn one and miss turn two, the stewards made their bed early on. Verstappen’s penalty was therefore unjust on that basis.
Either penalise both or turn a blind eye. Inspite of my aforementioned concerns for the precedent set for lap one of Grand Prix’s, I wouldn’t have had such an issue with the stewards letting Hamilton off the hook. Verstappen’s later penalty made it a decision worth blogging about.