FIA needs to take a tougher stance to keep Hamilton-Verstappen rivalry in check

Latest coming together at Monza should be a wakeup call to F1's governing body

As Formula One heads to Russia and one of the more dangerous tracks on the calendar there is little satisfaction in being able to say ‘I told you so’.

Two months ago, this column predicted the rivalry between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton was headed for the buffers at break-neck speed.

Perhaps it wasn’t that difficult to see the respect they professed for one another was gone and, after Silverstone, another collision was a racing certainty.

Thankfully it happened at the slowest point on the Monza circuit - almost anywhere but a chicane and both cars would have been doing upwards of 320 kilometres per hour.

Even so their collision at 32kph was enough to catapult one car on top of the other and, as he said himself, Hamilton was fortunate his neck was not broken by the giant Red Bull rear wheel that rolled, momentarily, over his head.

And with the Red Bull resting on top of the trapped Mercedes, if I didn’t know better, I’d say Verstappen was revving the engine deliberately to stick it to the man beneath him just that fraction more.

Monza has not taken the heat out of this conflict by a single degree. Anyone who thinks it’s 1-1 in the accident stakes is very much mistaken.

Verstappen lost out entirely at Silverstone and now goes to the start line in Sochi with a three-place grid penalty as well as a grudge.

More so because he has ended up with a double punishment after Silverstone. The loss on the day plus, almost certainly, another grid penalty later in the season for changing a damaged engine.

There’s a lot of merit to Honda’s call for a technical review committee to right such wrongs.

If you want my take on Monza, Hamilton opened the door to Verstappen going into the Rettifilio chicane and firmly slammed it again in mid chicane, expecting the Red Bull to take to the run off but their rivalry is too far down the road for that. So I see it as a 50/50 call. Ruthless, cynical, righteousness meets bloody-minded, wounded, intransigence.

But the real problem does not rest with either of them. They are playing the system for all they are worth, riding the rules and their passion, to the limit.

The issue lies in a limp-wristed governing body failing to act with wisdom and consistency.

Unless the FIA changes the rules of engagement (a phrase usually reserved for wartime) it may one day have blood on its hands, hopefully only metaphorically speaking.

We have been looking at the front of the grid but the rivalry at the very back between Haas teammates Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin is equally worrying.

F1 is a dangerous sport and needs firm governance.

There is a strong argument to suggest that punishments handed out for causing accidents on faster corners should be more severe to reflect the potential consequences.

F1 will never be like athletics and cycling, which can be ruled by empirical checks such as a blood tests.

However much information stewards have from all the TV angles, car telemetry, throttle traces and brake action, their decisions can only ever be subjective.

Personally, I would have given Hamilton a stop-go penalty at Silverstone, and maybe even a disqualification; at Monza kicked the warring duo to the back of the grid.

The elephant in the corner of this particular five-star room is that the stewards are amateurs used on a rotating basis. Calls by drivers for a full-time, experienced panel have been ignored by the FIA, presumably on financial grounds.

Amazing as it sounds, these critical posts continue to be filled on a grace-and-favour basis: entirely voluntary and unpaid, save for lavish expenses.

Given the reality that, moment by moment, competitive sport is so often a matter of instinct and guided by passion, and the decisions needed are necessarily subjective calls under high pressure, the FIA’s wishy-washy ways urgently need review.

As much as the stewards are vastly experienced in their own fields, would a constantly rotating, well-meaning, band of well-heeled, amateur racers, always come to the same conclusions as professionals attending every race? Especially when it comes to ruling against two of the most famous sport figures on the planet?

The FIA needs to get its house in order because promoters Liberty, to their credit, are shaping a new, more competitive, era in which these incidents won’t be the exception; they will be the rule.

Updated: September 22nd 2021, 3:36 PM
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