The first-lap incident between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen at the British Grand Prix is continuing to spark debate. One of the many points of discussion to emerge from the controversy has been that of whether the 10-second penalty given to Hamilton was the correct one, given the huge consequences for Verstappen. The crash not only caused the Dutchman to lose a large portion of his advantage in the World Championship but also led to him having to spend time in hospital following the massive 51G impact.
Fortunately Verstappen was okay, but the likes of Red Bull boss Christian Horner have suggested that Hamilton's penalty was not harsh enough given that Verstappen required medical checks afterwards. However, F1 race director Michael Masi has made it clear that the stewards do not factor the context or consequences of incidents into their decisions.
This has led to much debate amongst our RN365 journalists over whether such a ruling is fair or not...
Anna Francis: How can consequences that affect health and safety be ignored?
In some ways, I can totally understand why the stewards take this approach. ‘Context’ and ‘consequences’ are both hard to define in a situation like this; for example, would taking consequences into account mean just considering the impact on the World Championship of an incident, or would it focus more on the off-track effects? And if so, what would happen if such consequences occur some time after the incident? Say Verstappen had been taken to hospital several hours after the race rather than immediately following the crash; if the stewards were to take this into account as a consequence when punishing Hamilton, would they have to add on a penalty some time later, or revise the previous one?
I do believe that factoring in the World Championship when issuing penalties could be near on impossible for the stewards, who of course should not show any bias. However, it seems bizarre to me that in some situations consequences are not factored in, particularly when an individual’s health and safety have been affected by an incident. Isn’t one of the main purposes of rules, punishments, etc. to ensure that safety in the sport is maintained? That a driver’s move on track does not put another driver or individual at unnecessary risk? And given that we are fortunately in an age of increasing safety measures, shouldn’t F1 be continuing to focus on this as a priority?
If one was to read into this even more deeply, it could be contended that not issuing punishments for consequences when it comes to the physical - and arguably psychological - impact on a driver is not in fitting with another aspect of this era of Formula 1, which is one that encourages more openness in discussing issues such as mental health. We are no longer in an age where drivers should be seen almost as ‘alpha males’ who just ‘get on with it’, put themselves at risk and not complain. This is not the 1970s.
Thankfully, of course, with the increased safety in this day and age, such severe incidents like that suffered by Verstappen are not common. But surely if F1 is to continue with its approach to safety and to taking care of people both physically and mentally, it would be worth considering taking such consequences into account when the circumstances call for it.
Thomas Maher: Context always matters
The crash between Verstappen and Hamilton is likely to lead to a re-think of the attitude taken towards incidents on track in recent years. Going back as recently as 2012, Romain Grosjean was given a race ban for his part in causing the La Source crash at Spa-Francorchamps, with the stewards revealing the context of the incident had played a factor in their decision making.
“The stewards regard this incident as an extremely serious breach of the regulations which had the potential to cause injury to others," said the stewards at that race. "It eliminated leading championship contenders from the race."
Since then, the FIA, together with the teams, have adjusted their approach so that context doesn't matter. Regardless of who is involved, or the repercussions of the incident, the stewards take an overhead view.
On paper, this is the ideal approach. But that's making the assumption that a penalty will have definitely cost the driver being punished. Such was Hamilton's pace advantage at Silverstone once Verstappen was out, it was difficult to see him fail to recover to the top spot. Having been found predominantly at fault for the collision with Verstappen, it hardly seems fair that Lewis wins the race while the driver taken out is sitting on the sidelines.
The big question is how to implement penalties that redress the balance without being unfair? After all, Williams would feel just as aggrieved as Red Bull did if Hamilton had hit Nicholas Latifi rather than Max Verstappen. You couldn't give Hamilton a bigger penalty for hitting another, just because the rival drives a faster car.
The fairest solution would probably be to bring back the ten second stop and go penalty, which is served separately to a pit stop. This used to be the punishment of choice for almost all transgressions, even minor ones, but was quietly forgotten about over the past decade. Had Hamilton been given that penalty, which would have had to have been served within three laps and not to Mercedes' own timescale, he would have struggled to get back near the podium, let alone pull off a race win.
The stewards shouldn't be afraid of utilising harsher penalties, and nor should they be restricted from using them. Otherwise, you end up with situations like Sunday, with a penalty merely being an inconvenience for Hamilton rather than a punishment.
Context matters but, given the difficulty in implementing a fair and equitable approach to that, then a penalty that definitely hinders every driver, regardless of how fast their car is, is the approach to fix that. And, if circumstances still somehow occur to give that driver a great result, then they've probably earned it!