Rage against the Race Director

“Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. At which Grand Prix did one driver finish third, another take the podium for third, and a third take the points for third?”

I don’t think I could take credit for the tweet sent out by the former Red Bull and Jordan marketing ace Mark Gallagher last night, after tantrums flared when the chequered flag fell to signify the end of the Mexican Grand Prix.

The late drama between the two bulls and the prancing horse added life to what was a rather lifeless race for 68 laps. Shots of Serena Williams on her phone, us media folk condemning her on Twitter for using a phone while the race was going on even though we were all sat doing the same thing.

It seems any overtake attempt on the high altitude Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit was negated by the lack of temperature in the Medium tyres, which nearly everyone switched to after the first pit stop. Max Verstappen summed it up on the team radio when behind Daniel Ricciardo in fifth for me: “So what do I do now? I’m stuck!”

Red Bull dutily instructed Ricciardo to move over to allow Verstappen to take time out of Nico Rosberg. After 40 or so laps Ricciardo elected to switch to Soft tyres and Sebastian Vettel eventually surrendered the lead to Hamilton after spending 30+ laps on his Soft tyres, for a set of new Mediums.

The top three at that stage were all essentially on the same strategy, but they had committed to the one-stop in different phases. Mercedes had the race under control knowing full well that they could turn the pace up with Lewis Hamilton and Rosberg should they need to pit a second time. But Red Bull were not so keen on Verstappen’s tyres, which had been used to put pressure on Rosberg midway through the race.

At this stage Vettel was closing down on Verstappen, after a failed attempt by the Red Bull driver to pass Rosberg at Turn 3 with the help of traffic. The Ferrari driver was on much fresher rubber, which enabled him to close on the Red Bull to the tune of five tenths per lap. With only a handful of laps left, Vettel got within a second of Verstappen and made his move into Turn 1. His efforts were thwarted however, when Verstappen locked his brakes and cut the next two corners.

For me it was clear that he bailed out of the corner and gained an advantage, although with incidents that occur in the final five laps the stewards normally wait until after the race. That wasn’t going to cut it for Vettel, who resorted to telling the Race Director, Charlie Whiting, to “fuck off” over the team radio. This prompted team principle Maurizio Arrivabene to intervene, telling his driver to calm down in the wake of FIA President Jean Todt watching the race.

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari in the FIA Press Conference. 30.10.2016. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City, Mexico, Race Day. - www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com - copy of publication required for printed pictures. Every used picture is fee-liable. © Copyright: Bearne / XPB Images

Photo Credit: Bearne/XPB Images

We’re told that Todt wasn’t best pleased with Sebastian’s language post-race and neither was I quite frankly. But I can’t say Charlie and the stewards did themselves any favours by not investigating Hamilton, who pulled off the same move at Turn 1 with a brake problem as Verstappen and was able to continue without even getting a five-second time penalty.

For me Verstappen had every right to maintain position on that basis, because even if the stewards decided to investigate Hamilton we’d have an idea of what needed to be done to ensure the right person got onto the podium.

As it turns out neither driver who was due to take third place was the right one anyway. Even though Vettel took the third place trophy in scenes akin to that of NASCAR when Verstappen was told to exit the post-race green room, the Ferrari driver was later penalised because he was found to have moved under braking when Ricciardo attempted a late lunge up the inside at Turn 3 on the penultimate lap.

It was touch and go. Ricciardo was as late making the move as Vettel was in the defence, so it was hard to judge whether the Red Bull was significantly alongside when he made the manoeuvre. Which is what this whole thing boils down to.

By being carried away with trying to define what “moving under a braking zone” is the stewards have created an own goal whereby one rule conflicts with another. According to Article 27.6 of the sporting regulations drivers are allowed to make one defensive move, which Vettel did, but they must leave a space for the other driver, which Vettel also did. But because it was under braking it was classed as potentially dangerous (as of the US GP) – ironically a rule Vettel himself was pushing for after Verstappen’s antics at Spa.

The pair did exchange paint and wheel rims, but was it dangerous?

Carlos Sainz said some wise words after the race, in that he felt making an overtaking manoeuvre has become a lottery in the sense that the drivers don’t know if a move on the limit is legal or not. I’m afraid that’s what happens when you don’t let the drivers get on with it.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid and Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid on the grid. 30.10.2016. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City, Mexico, Race Day. - www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com - copy of publication required for printed pictures. Every used picture is fee-liable. © Copyright: Price / XPB Images

Photo Credit: Price/XPB Images

And how does it make the stewards look when they instantly give one penalty to one driver, which promotes another to the podium, who is later found out to be not the third place driver anyway? It’s a bit like giving a team a goal in Football after 90 minutes. All a bit unprofessional if you ask me.

The stewards need to do away with the within five laps rule and make swift decisions, because race results shouldn’t happen five hours after it occurred.

Amongst all the post-race handbags at dawn we’re forgetting that Rosberg is now only 18 points clear of Hamilton in the championship standings. This means all Rosberg needs to do is win the race in Brazil in order to clinch the 2016 world championship. It’s easier said than done, Interlagos has thrown up some challenges for the drivers in recent years, and if the weather isn’t onside it could have massive ramifications going into Abu Dhabi.

Photo Credit: XPB Images

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