Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton crash, Monza, 2021

Does F1 still have a blind spot for deliberate contact?

2021 F1 season

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The second collision between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen demonstrated Formula 1 is experiencing its most fiercely contested championship fight in a generation.

The pair had already crossed swords on-track several times before their first collision at the British Grand Prix in July. At Monza, the first time the two title contenders had fought wheel-to-wheel since then, they tangled again.

The two previously raced each other cleanly – just about – in Bahrain, Imola, Algarve, Catalunya and Paul Ricard. But there were near-misses at the start in Imola and Catalunya, where Hamilton took avoiding action to ensure Verstappen’s uncompromising moves didn’t result in contact.

Lately Hamilton has been less willing to back down, most notably at Silverstone. It’s fairly obvious why – Red Bull has had a fractionally quicker car on balance over the season so far and Hamilton can’t afford to let points-scoring opportunities slip.

In previous skirmishes between the two Hamilton had too little to gain to force the issue. Now whenever the two meet on track it’s a matter of irresistible force meets immovable object.

Flashback: 1989 Japanese GP – Prost’s Suzuka chicanery denies Senna the title
That’s all well and good as long as the pair are fighting each other hard and complying with the rules as they understand them. But, perhaps inevitably, insinuations have been made that some collisions may not have been entirely free of malice. While the drivers themselves haven’t gone that far with their words, their team principals have, but later softened their stances.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner initially accused Hamilton of “dirty driving” after the collision which left Verstappen in the barriers at Silverstone. Later, after Red Bull’s attempt to provoke a stiffer penalty for Hamilton had failed, Horner clarified “we didn’t at any point say in our submission that it was deliberate action”.

At Monza Horner’s opposite number at Mercedes, Toto Wolff, accused Verstappen of committing a “tactical foul” on Hamilton. The analogy was fitting: As the stewards later ruled, Verstappen was never far enough alongside Hamilton for a pass to be on, which prompted some to suspect he only persisted with the move in order to prevent Hamilton from taking a bite out of his points lead. Like Horner, Wolff later dialled down the rhetoric. “One could see it as tactical foul with the bias that each of us needs to just acknowledge,” he conceded.

While neither side may yet be prepared to openly accuse the other of committing a cynical take-out, the tension between them is rising. There’s only five points between the title contenders, the stakes are sky-high and there’s still eight races left for them to avoid hitting each other.

Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna's damaged cars, Suzuka, 1990
Flashback: 1990 Japanese GP – Senna clinches second world championship by taking Prost out
Deliberate contact is rare in Formula 1, for obvious reasons. Intentionally hitting a rival in an open-wheel racing car capable of well over 350kph is both dangerous and unethical. For it to happen not only must someone succumb to that temptation, the incentive for doing so must be sufficiently high – for example, a world championship is on the line.

This explains the few clear examples we’ve seen to date, though all of them were disputed at the time and some still are. In most cases, F1 either failed to react or did not acknowledge a deliberate collision had occured.

When Alain Prost hit Ayrton Senna at Suzuka in 1989, clinching the title by doing so, he went unpunished. Therefore when Senna responded in kind at the same track 12 months later – at far higher speeds – he also got away with it, even when he later admitted it was intentional.

Michael Schumacher’s championship-winning collision with Damon Hill in 1994 attracted no sanction, unlike when he attempted the same on Jacques Villeneuve three years later. On that occasion, one might cynically note, it was a lot easier to issue a punishment, as it did not involve taking Schumacher’s title away.

Nonetheless the late Max Mosley, who was FIA president during the latter two scandals, subsequently claimed the precedent set in 1997 would be used to strip a driver of the world championship if they won it by deliberately taking out a rival. Over two decades later, that claim has not yet been put to the test (though we have seen another deliberate collision – between Nelson Piquet Jnr and a wall – which race control overlooked at the time).

Michael Schumacher collides with Damon Hill, Adelaide, 1994
Flashback – 1994 Australian GP: Schumacher’s first title tainted by clash with Hill
Is F1 closer to a repeat now than ever before? Verstappen versus Hamilton is getting physical in a way Schumacher-Alonso, Alonso-Vettel, Vettel-Hamilton and even Hamilton-Rosberg never quite did, bar the odd exception (Spain 2016, Azerbaijan 2017).

Perhaps in a few races’ time Silverstone and Monza will look like deviations from the norm. But from the present perspective it looks like a situation which is deteriorating.

However that view isn’t necessarily shared by Formula 1 race director Michael Masi, who pointed out the stewards regard incidents individually. “From the FIA perspective, together with the stewards, we look at each and every incident on its merit, regardless if its Lewis, if it’s Max, if it’s whoever,” he stressed. “Each incident is looked at on the merits of the incident.”

Masi is understandably wary of being seen as coming down on the side of either team or driver. “The pattern of escalation is a perception for some, depending on which person you’re looking at supporting. I think if you ask Christian you probably get a completely different perspective [to Wolff].

Flashback – 1997 European GP: Villeneuve takes title as Schumacher’s attack gets him thrown out
“I’m not going to get into the games. We have a very close, exciting championship between two fantastic drivers, and that’s the part we should all be focussing on.”

No doubt Formula 1 should be grateful for having a championship fight between two closely-matched drivers and teams. At the same time, the potential for an unsatisfactory conclusion to the championship is obvious. “I hope the championship is won on the track not in the barriers or the stewards room,” F1’s motorsport director Ross Brawn observed after Monza.

Both drivers have made mistakes and both have been punished for them. Now is an opportunity for a quiet word to the pair of them about ensuring it goes no further than that, and a promise of far stiffer penalties if it does.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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123 comments on “Does F1 still have a blind spot for deliberate contact?”

  1. The second collision between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen demonstrated Formula 1 is experiencing its most fiercely contested championship fight in a generation.

    I’m going to argue that you’re either stretching (or, rather, compressing) the definition of a generation, or may have forgotten to include several instances of close (and over the line fighting), including actual contact, between Hamilton and Rosberg in their title fights 2014 through 2016.

    1. Good point, in fact it made me wonder if backing up a driver into other drivers (i.e. Hamilton-Rosberg Abu Dhabi 2016) would be considered to be part of the ‘blind spot’ as well? I mean, it doesn’t (immediately) poses the same level of danger, but when it comes to racing ethics, is it equally questionable?

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        20th September 2021, 14:52

        @proesterchen For sure, Rosberg got away with a lot of stuff that he wouldn’t have if Lewis wasn’t his teammate. In fact, he probably would not have won the 2016 championship had he been penalized for Spain 2016.

        Really? :-)

        1. I believe that Lewis got away with much, much more than Nico. Mostly in lap 1 corner disputes.

          1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
            20th September 2021, 15:34

            @magon4 Spain was massive and it won Nico the championship.

          2. Don’t know if it is much more, but it was surely not less.

          3. @proesterchen @freelittlebirds

            @magon4 Can you imagine how things like this could be played out in a reverse grid sprint race to alter season WDC standings? It wouldn’t be a good look and all too easy to happen.

          4. @redpill Agreed. I think, in general, there can be a race on Saturday, also a grid-reversed one, that does not count towards the WDC but maybe towards the Constructor’s or towards extra money from the FIA.

        2. It would have been extraordinarily harsh to punish Rosberg for Spain, when it was Hamilton keeping his foot in that ultimately caused them to collide. You can argue that he ought not to have been forced out wide, but once he was there contact was not inevitable.

          1. The speed difference between the two (because Rosberg was in the wrong power mode) was such that it was hard to back out of. Rosberg imho deliberately blocked Hamilton knowing fully well that they could crash.

          2. It would have been extraordinarily harsh to punish rosberg for a crash where he saw hamilton was on the inside and didn’t give him a cars width?

            Talking rubbish mate. Shall i bring up belgium? Or austria? Or the countless times on the second straight in bahrain?

            Rosberg was a dirty driver, that is a fact

      2. To drive slowly and safely is unethical?
        If you want to go down that route then you have to include stuff like Rosberg deliberately parking his car at Monaco to secure pole, or running your Hamilton off track at Barcelona till they both crashed.

        1. Well, there you go. When is something unethical when isn’t it? I’m not saying it is nor deliberately left out other examples, I’m only wondering if you only judge in hindsight if it was unethical (and is it just because the result turned out to be dangerous) and if you, on top of that, can safely claim it was intentional. A few big ifs, if you ask me.

        2. My recollection of the Spain incident is that Rosberg was clearly heading aggressively to the inside to defend and Hamilton decided to drive into an ever-closing gap when the wiser move would have been to abort (and in the Spain case, Hamilton could have gone to the outside instead)

          Deciding to drive into an ever-closing gap; that sounds familiar…

          1. Hamilton’s immediate reaction gave away how he blamed himself.

          2. it wasnt like you describe, when Hamilton decided which way to go he picked the bigger gap, and Rosberg reacted to that. According to the rules Rosberg should have been punished. on a straight a car may not be pushed off the track.

        3. Drive slowly and safely? This is f1. If you are doing that on purpose, or forced to by a block it is unethical. This is f1. This is racing. This is reality. Join us.

  2. I think we need more harsh penalties or something to prevent drivers in forcing other drivers outside of the track. I really hate it that the solution when someone tries to attempt an overtake on the outside line of the corner, is to just drive the attempting car off the track. Why can’t drivers race like Ocon and Perez at Portugal 2020 for example?

    1. @krichelle, I agree. I especially felt this way towards Stroll and Leclerc unnecessarily forcing Perez off, even though he was enough alongside to have a right for space.

    2. IfImnotverymuchmistaken
      20th September 2021, 15:47

      I must wholeheartedly disagree.

      There is no right of way on the outside, no claiming of space except what a driver takes away from another driver. Every driver in motorsport will say (and have said so in Austria) that if you go for the outside pass, you must finish it before the apex, or expect to find yourself on the grass, and that they have been aware of that since carting.

      An outside pass is so difficult (in comparable machinery) that it is the ultimate demonstration of dominance in motorsport. It is a manoeuvre that says “I’m sooo much faster than you, and I am showing it to everybody”, and therefore shouldn’t have any help from the ruling body.

      If the FIA goes to any length to give a driver going for an outside pass any right to space except what he claims for himself, it will seriously diminish racing, as everyone will lunge for the gap on the outside (because there always is a gap there, as it is the side where overtaking is so difficult) and claim they’ve been run of the road when they find themselves not fast enough.

      1. Unfortunately the FIA have been doing just that. Almost all overtaking attempt from the outside resulting in contact have more than 95% of the time resulted in the driver on the inside getting a penalty.
        Albon-Hamilton, Perez-Norris, Leclerc-Perez just to name some of the most recent.

        1. Only when the outside driver is fully alongside. Verstappen got the penalty in Monza for not being alongside far enough to claim space.

          When overtaking on the inside you only have to be more than halfway along to claim space.

          1. @silfen The Monza stewards report treats the entire chicane as a single corner, which led to the outcome that Verstappen was to blame. Had they have treated it as two corners, I feel it would have been more likely treated as a racing incident.

          2. @maddme That’s because, in terms of braking zones and so much else, a chicane is a single corner. You choose a line going into it. You cannot change that by much easily midway through the chicane, especially if you are already at or near the limit of your car’s performance, which racing drivers normally are when battling like this. It is ridiculous to try to make out that they should be considered as two completely separate corners.

          3. @drmouse Absolutely. The only reason I highlighted the stewards response is purely down to the aspect of the incident happening at turn 2.

            Personally I still felt it was a racing incident as was the response of drivers not involved. However,I accept the penalty laid down and hope that the incident itself acts as a warning to both Hamilton and Verstappen to calm their antics (they have both been as bad as each other) IMO and have deserved the penalties they have received.

          4. @maddme

            I can’t disagree. I think in any other year it would have been considered a racing incident, as would several other incidents this year. I think penalising Max here, though, was consistent with the rest of the year, and I hope both he and Lewis will race a little more cleanly from here on (and that Horner and Toto will stop fanning the flames, too).

      2. 99.99999999999999999999999999999%(with a small margin of error) of all overtake attempts on the outside are because a driver has smartly blocked the inside line, or because the second part of the corner in the inside, it isn’t a macho display.

        Muchos crapos being spoken today

    3. @krichelle
      You will always find incidents that contradict with your suggestion.
      A driver commits to a line, driving on the limit, it becomes difficult to change that line mid corner.
      The only change of direction usually possible is to go further outside of the line being taken.

    4. @krichelle Exactly that.

      Define the amount of car that needs to be alongside for space to be given, and give hard penalties for not adhering to the rule and that’s the end of that.

      It’s ridiculous the way it is now where you can just push other cars off track. It’s actually hard to believe how it’s deemed a sporting move.

      But difficult to change things with a hopelessly unprofessional and stubborn FIA.

  3. I’m not sure if the 1990 Suzuka incident necessarily occurred at far higher speeds as they approached T1 from a standstill start rather than driving continually for a longer distance.
    Anyway, this and Jerez are the only clear-cut cases of intentionally crashing into another driver.

    1. Common Jere, Australia 1994 was the most blatant of all! Schumacher had already broken his front suspension, by driving into a wall! To then go back on track and collide as he did with Hill, was the most unsporting event I have ever witnessed. And then for the FIA not to strip of his wdc leaves an indelible stain on F1s credibility!
      Honestly they should go back today and award that wdc to Hill!

      1. Ahaha, schumacher was disqualified from 4 out of 16 races and still had 1 more point with a car that was probably inferior to the williams. That incident is a joke compared to awarding hill the title.

        1. @esploratore1 There was a huge amount of controversy surrounding the 1994 Bennetton. There was strong belief by more than one team and driver that it was running traction control and hidden control options within the ECU uncovered later in the season by the FIA.

        2. Your argument, Esploratore, boils down too “Schumacher should be allowed to cheat because he was better” ???

          1. Jonathan Edwards
            21st September 2021, 1:30

            No, it boils down to the fact that Schumacher was subject to such absurd penalties that year, that it was ludicrous the championship was still being contested.

          2. Davethechicken
            21st September 2021, 7:06

            So being penalised for ignoring black flags is absurd?
            Drivers can just make up their own rules?
            Absurd argument.

          3. Jonathan Edwards
            21st September 2021, 9:01

            The team was still trying to communicate with the officials when the black flag was shown, and that fact they decided to issue it for such a paltry offense in the first place reeks of favoritism towards the title charge of the British driver at the British GP. The fact Schumacher was subsequently banned for two races afterwards can easily be viewed as an effort to tighten up the championship battle. There’s as much evidence for that as there is that Schumacher deliberately hit Hill in Adelaide. Namely, all circumstantial at this point, because no one truly knows except those who can’t, or won’t, discuss it again.

          4. He was given a 5 sec stop go penalty which he did not stop for. 7laps later he got a black flag.
            What else are race control/ the stewards to do? Say naughty boy? It is totally unacceptable to ignore the rules.
            Overtaking on the parade lap has always been outlawed for safety reasons. It would be mayhem with drivers doing burn outs etc otherwise.
            You seem to think Schumacher should have had his own rules different to the rest, bit like his tyres in later years?
            You can’t ignore penalties. If you do you get a greater sanction.
            You can debate the race bans sure.
            But again that doesn’t excuse driving into Hill at Adelaide.

          5. Jonathan Edwards
            22nd September 2021, 3:25

            Read Steve Matchett’s book, Life in the Fast Lane. The entire event is neatly summarized. Key points summarized: The first notice the team received simply said a penalty of five seconds had been imposed. They took this to mean 5 seconds would be added to his race time. A bit later they were reminded of the penalty, which was for overtaking in the morning warm-up. As this was obviously not correct, they sought out the race director. During the search for him, the black flag was shown. Important to note, is that the black flag was only shown to the driver at the time, and only at one spot around the track. Benetton weren’t notified that a black flag had been shown, so never bothered to radio Schumacher. He later said he never saw it, as it wasn’t shown at every marshall station, only at one, and wasn’t accompanied by a car number plate. Furthermore, neither the team nor the driver were aware that one could not overtake during the formation lap. In fact, only a misrepresentation of the relevant rule could be used to issue a penalty. It was a contravention of the rule to not maintain position during the entire formation lap. As such, Schumacher did not break the rule. The team consulted with the race director, who rescinded the black flag, and Schumacher finished the race. Fast forward, and the WMSC held a hearing where they stripped Schumacher of his finish and issued a two-race ban, as well as a $500,000 fine. The last time a driver ignored a black flag, Nigel Mansell, the punishment was a $50,000 fine and a one-race ban.

            So, Schumacher was issued a penalty from a faulty understanding of a rule he didn’t actually break, the stewards improperly notified the team, who were subsequently told the black flag was rescinded, and he was free to finish. Later, a separate governing body said none of that mattered, increased the monetary fine by a factor of 10, and tripled the race ban.

            I agree Schumacher was wrong for Adelaide, and on balance I’d say it appears more likely than not that it was intentional. However, it is not definitive, and the fact the crash even had implications on the championship is only a result of an obvious attempt by the governing body to tighten the title battle.

      2. Totally. Australia 1994 is a scandal, but F1 is riddled with it thanks to FIAs ineptitude.

      3. I agree. It was one of the first F1 races I had seen. I remember that there was no way I could ever support a driver like Schumacher after that day. That was one of the most disgusting moments in sport I’ve come across. I was truly gutted for Hill.

  4. I rated both Lewis and Max so high that I can’t see any accident involving both drivers was not deliberate. Both Max’s slide-in and Lewis’s rear-end were always calculated action. I hope there’s no stiffer penalties for them, at least not this year.

    1. I can’t see any accident involving both drivers was not deliberate

      It’s probably more a ‘game of chicken’ rather than deliberately causing an accident in these 2 instances.

      1. +1.
        Like a chess game. Both willing to sacrifice a Rook or a Knight for the sake of winning in the end. Impressive losses for the viewers, but the bulk of the fight remains.

    2. Watch hamilton vs norris on the same corner, he gave norris loads of room.

      It was deliberate by Hamilton again, and he should be banned

  5. I do think Masi sitting them both down together (maybe with Wolf and Horner in a separate one afterwards) to talk about this would be wise. Penalizing things, not sure.

    Maybe just tell them that since they are both now regarded as risks, they will be under extra scrutiny? Not sure that would help, since clearly they already were.

    Oh, and PLEASE tell Marko to get off the BS comments about this kind of thing.

    1. Can’t ask Marko to get of the BS, even Red, a Bull has to S… :)

    2. I wouldn’t expect that to accomplish anything.

    3. Maybe tell Marko the facemask goes over the nose too while he’s at it…

  6. The analogy was fitting: As the stewards later ruled, Verstappen was never far enough alongside Hamilton for a pass to be on, which prompted some to suspect he only persisted with the move in order to prevent Hamilton from taking a bite out of his points lead.

    Except this is completely false as the cars made contact rear wheel to rear wheel. Race direction couldn’t have picked a worse argument for the penalty. Race direction shouldn’t have tried to justify their decision as it makes them look bad.
    Clearly Max and Ham don’t go for half moves both shove their opponents off track. Max does it a little worse but in the end I think the monza move was more “on” than the silverstone move.

    1. petebaldwin (@)
      20th September 2021, 14:29

      Yeah I agree – I don’t think the Monza move was anything particularly special. If Hamilton had given Max space and he made the move stick, commentators would have been saying what a great, brave move it was. Instead, he was pushed onto the sausage kerb so suddenly, it was “never on.”

      Max has pushed Hamilton wide several times so Hamilton did the same back to him – Max didn’t back off so they made contact. Simple…

      I like that Masi said “From the FIA perspective, together with the stewards, we look at each and every incident on its merit, regardless if its Lewis, if it’s Max, if it’s whoever.” I don’t believe for a second that they’d have issued a 3 place grid penalty to anyone other than one of those 2 drivers. If it was someone further back, they’d have said it was a racing incident.

      1. @petebaldwin

        I don’t believe for a second that they’d have issued a 3 place grid penalty to anyone other than one of those 2 drivers. If it was someone further back, they’d have said it was a racing incident.

        100% assured.

    2. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
      20th September 2021, 14:48

      It looked to me that the front of Max’s rear wheel contacted the rear of Lewis’ rear wheel which is why the car got launched off the ground. Side by side contact I don’t think it would of happened.

      1. Coventry Climax
        20th September 2021, 15:47

        And in Silverstone it was clearly Lewis’s front that hit Max’s rear. What’s your point actually, (s)andy?

        1. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
          20th September 2021, 16:29

          By the way contact happened Max was coming from behind. Zoom out TV director! pls. is assessing this to be a racing incident with the cars side by side. I merely mention it didn’t look like that in the race.

          Are you actually following the thread to see which comment I am responding to?

          There is no mention of Silverstone in Zoom out TV director! pls. post.

          1. @andyfromsandy

            Yet Max was clearly substantially alongside approaching the corner, so if they would be consistent, Lewis would have to leave space, just as Max was obliged to leave space at Silverstone for the inside driver.

    3. I think this is supposed to mean “never far enough alongside on approach to the corner”. It’s easy enough to be alongside mid corner or on the exit if you dive bomb, even from quite a long way back, but the rules of engagement don’t allow that for fairly obvious reasons.

      1. Which means if you had no intention of making the corner, you can draw alongside at the next apex and cause a crash.

  7. “blind spot for deliberate contact”? Driver not willing to give up the corner is not same as driver deliberate crashing in opponent.