Sunday’s Grand Prix was exciting and controversial in so many ways, but it proved that Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are in the middle of one of the hardest battles for the World Championship in the sport’s history, writes Mika Häkkinen.
That these guys are now going to Abu Dhabi on equal points is brilliant. After 21 hard races, with lots of ups and downs, we now have a race to decide the World Championship.
It’s a beautiful moment for Formula One but I want to see the title decided on the basis of pure racing. That means the quickest driver and car combination should win on Sunday. I don’t want to see penalties being used to determine who wins the World Championship – that would be a shame for Formula One and the most important people in the sport, the fans.
While we use words like ‘battle’ or ‘fights’ to describe the intensity of the sporting competition between Verstappen and Hamilton, between Red Bull Racing and Mercedes, this is not a war. We do not want to see cars colliding with each other, increasing the risk for everyone. Formula One is dangerous enough.
In Jeddah we saw some fantastic racing, Hamilton and Verstappen pushing as hard as they possibly could. The drama caused by the first red flag incident, when Mick Schumacher suffered an accident, was almost unbelievable because it immediately removed the strategic advantage Mercedes enjoyed and handed a real opportunity to Verstappen since he was able to change tires in the pit lane.
Verstappen’s first restart, when he drove off the track to take the lead from Hamilton, was a brave move but ultimately a waste of time since he had to hand the place back. His second restart, when he went for the gap on the left as Hamilton moved right to cover off the impressive Esteban Ocon, was just perfect.
This is the kind of manoeuvre that can win a race, or even a championship. The lap 37 incident when both Verstappen and Hamilton went off the track at Turn 1 caused Verstappen to be penalised. Driving a competitor off track should never be rewarded, and this reminds us of the incident in Brazil when Verstappen and Hamilton similarly went off track – with no penalty given.
With Verstappen being asked to give the lead back to Hamilton, the solution was clear. When you have to let a car repass there is only one way to do it safely. That is to make a clear move to one side, come off the throttle slightly and allow the natural speed differential to enable your competitor to repass you.
ONE RACE TO GO. ZERO POINTS IN IT.
Who wins?!#SaudiArabianGP ???????? #F1 pic.twitter.com/6RfnXMutH7
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 5, 2021
What happened in Jeddah was dangerous. Both drivers knew the DRS activation line lay ahead, so neither wanted to be the first across it since that would enable the other driver to overtake them on the next straight.
We also now know that while Verstappen had been given the instruction to allow Hamilton to pass, Hamilton had not yet been informed and was momentarily confused. As a result the teams and FIA will need to look at the process, and perhaps the technology, used to send messages to drivers.
Looking at what happened next, I do not believe that Verstappen was ‘brake testing’ Hamilton – that is, trying to force a collision that could easily have put both cars out of the race.
Instead he was trying to force Hamilton to overtake him at the point. However the way he slowed, and the position of his car on the track, was definitely a problem. The FIA has revealed that Verstappen’s car produced 2.4G-force under braking. To give you an idea of what that is like, a high performance road car with ABS (anti-lock braking) would produce about 1.2G under maximum braking. This was almost twice that, and we could see Verstappen slowed from 8th gear to 3rd gear in the process.
Whatever the reason, it was not positive racing and the FIA was right to apply a penalty after the race. While we can argue about the size of the penalty – considering it did not change the results – the message is clear. Dangerous driving will lead to a penalty and if the FIA see a repeat of this kind of driving in Abu Dhabi the penalty will be severe and immediate.
I don’t know how Hamilton’s car survived the contact with the back of Verstappen’s Red Bull, but the Mercedes front wing must be strong! Even with a damaged end-plate Hamilton managed to set fastest laps and take the win.
I have always been of the opinion that you have to race positively, not negatively. Winning the World Championship should be all about speed, precision, race craft and proving that you can beat the other driver in a straight fight – a sporting fight. That’s what I want to see next Sunday, and I know that’s what the FIA, Formula One and the fans want too.
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