Formula 1: Why decision not to penalize Max Verstappen was not inconsistent

Max Verstappen was not stripped of his first victory of the 2019 Formula 1 season. A few weeks ago, Sebastian Vettel was. But this decision was not inconsistent.After Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen was not penalized for the contact he made while taking the lead from Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc late in the Austrian Grand Prixen route to earning his first victory of the 2019 Formula 1 season, fans criticized the FIA for being “inconsistent” with their decisions.

Such claims emerged largely due to the fact that just over three weeks ago, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was stripped of his Canadian Grand Prix victory over Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport’s Lewis Hamilton, who was then declared the winner.

Vettel went off the course between turns three and four on lap 48 of the 70-lap race around the 14-turn, 2.71-mile (4.361-kilometer) Circuit Gilles Villeneuve road course on Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and he came back onto the track in a manner that the race stewards deemed “unsafe”, as Hamilton had to take evasive action to avoid both slamming into the back of Vettel’s car and hitting the wall.

However, in reality, the decision to not penalize Verstappen and rob him of his 2.724-second victory over Leclerc via a five-second time penalty reflected consistency, not inconsistency, that the FIA absolutely needed to display.

First of all, these two incidents were nothing alike. The only “consistency” that would have been reflected by Verstappen being penalized would be the FIA consistently penalizing everything the second place finisher doesn’t like about how the race winner drives late in races. Silver would become the new gold had a penalty been issued.

In the Canadian Grand Prix, it was a matter of the leader effectively “owning” the track. Race stewards ruled that Hamilton had to take evasive action to avoid hitting Vettel, meaning that while Vettel held him off after returning to the track, he did so by blocking. In other words, even as the leader of the race, he wasn’t allowed to “own” the track how he did without being penalized for his action.

As for the incident in the Austrian Grand Prix between Verstappen and Leclerc, had a penalty been issued to Verstappen, it would have shown that Leclerc effectively “owned” the track simply because he was leading the race before the two drivers made contact.

Here is a video of this incident, which took place with three laps remaining in the 71-lap race around the 10-turn, 2.683-mile (4.318-kilometer) Red Bull Ring road course in Spielberg, Styria, Austria.

Had the race stewards issued a penalty to Verstappen, it would have shown that Leclerc effectively “owned” the corner when Verstappen was already alongside of him when the two drivers made contact. This would have been the exact opposite of what Vettel’s penalty suggested about the rule book.

By the time contact was actually made, Verstappen was already ahead of Leclerc. So naturally, Leclerc didn’t “own” the track at that point anyway. He chose to keep his foot in it despite falling to second place, and if you watch the replay camera, it is evident that he turned into Verstappen once he fell slightly behind him. It’s not like Verstappen flat-out hit him and drove him off the track to win the race.

Additionally, Verstappen clearly had more pace than Leclerc, especially on the final stint due to his newer tires. In no way, shape or form did this contact prevent Leclerc from winning the race. Verstappen’s incredible comeback and sheer speed took care of that through and through. He won the race, period.

In Vettel’s case, meanwhile, the way by which he reentered the track in the Canadian Grand Prix did, in fact, prevent Hamilton from taking the lead and physically winning the race. It affected the outcome of the race. Verstappen’s move did not.

The decision not to penalize Verstappen was pure consistency, not inconsistency, on behalf of the FIA.

But if you still want to talk inconsistency, I have one suggestion, particularly for those who are not fans of Hamilton.

Ask yourself this question.

If it was Hamilton who Verstappen passed for the lead, would people still be upset that he kept his victory the win?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

We also know that had Verstappen’s win been stripped from him and given to Hamilton via a five-second time penalty, the same people calling this lack of penalty ridiculous would be calling the penalty ridiculous.

The FIA deserve major credit, not criticism, for not stripping Max Verstappen of his first victory of the 2019 Formula 1 season and giving Charles Leclerc what would have been the first victory of his Formula 1 career, largely due to the consistency that such a decision reflected based on past controversial incidents.

This decision was anything but inconsistent with past decisions.

Source: Beyond the Flag