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Why F1 has a major racing etiquette problem

The Italian Grand Prix highlighted a key issue that has grown in Formula 1 over the last 10 years. RacingNews365.com takes a look at the way drivers now race in the sport.

The best part about any motorsport is the racing. It's why millions of people tune in every race weekend, because they want to see some of the best drivers in the world go head-to-head and battle for wins, podiums and points. When drivers fight for position, collisions are sometimes inevitable. We don't want to see accidents, but they are part of motorsport. However, F1 has become more precarious with numerous incidents when drivers go wheel-to-wheel. Last weekend's Italian GP saw Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen collide for the second time in 2021. Both drivers retired from the race, but Verstappen was awarded a three-grid place penalty . Many people thought that was a harsh punishment, declaring it a racing incident with no driver predominantly to blame. Hamilton and Verstappen have both said they will not back down when they are racing each other. This is fine, but their definition of 'back down' has highlighted a major problem in F1.

Let's throw things back to July's Austrian GP at the Red Bull Ring, an old-school circuit that is adored by fans and drivers. There were three key incidents at this year's Austrian GP. Lando Norris and Sergio Perez's battle, when the Mexican driver was forced to take to the gravel trap while trying to overtake Norris. Then there were Perez's two clashes with Charles Leclerc. Norris received a five-second time penalty for forcing Perez off the track whilst Perez was also handed the same penalty on two occasions for his defence against Leclerc. Most people did not like this outcome, saying that "it was racing". However, the stewards were right that day. Whenever there is a car alongside you, the driver on the inside must leave a car's width. The definition of alongside can be argued, but I'd say if a driver is at least halfway alongside another car, they are entitled to some room. This new generation of drivers in F1 have become very aggressive with their racing, which excites fans. Verstappen, Leclerc and Norris are always on the limit when they race, but they are setting a dangerous precedent. The stewards investigated Verstappen and Hamilton's incident on the opening lap at Monza at the second chicane, which saw Hamilton cut the corner, after he was left with nowhere to go due to Verstappen leaving him no space in a similar fashion to Imola. For me, this isn't fair. Hamilton should have been entitled to some more space. If the stewards judged things the way they did in Austria, Verstappen should have received a time penalty.

The problem is, most fans would be up in arms if that happened because they see that as racing. Look at Canada 2019, for example, when Sebastian Vettel was penalised when he re-joined the track and didn't leave Hamilton much room. There was outrage. Since then, the stewards have let incidents such as Verstappen and Leclerc at the 2019 Austrian GP, or Leclerc and Hamilton at Monza in the same year, go unpunished. By doing this, they are saying this type of racing is allowed. It shouldn't be, though, because it's not fair for the attacking driver. Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, the two most experienced drivers on the current grid, have always raced fairly and cleanly. When they were winning World Championships, their on-track battles with their rivals were always clean. Look at how Raikkonen came through the field in Japan 2005 as an example, or Alonso in 2012. Hamilton has generally been a very clean driver, too, although he has used similar tactics to force another driver wide in the past such as at the start of the 2015 US GP against Nico Rosberg at Turn 1. Rosberg perhaps returned the favour one year later when the pair clashed on the last lap of the Austrian GP.

Now we have a new breed of drivers who are more aggressive and often don't leave room on the exits of a corner. Maybe the wider cars, that were introduced in 2017, don't help matters, but I genuinely believe it's about respect. The defending driver has a mindset of 'I'm not going to leave any room on the outside and let my rival make a decision about whether we clash or he backs out'. This isn't right. Another aspect is the tarmac run-off areas. An attacking driver on the outside could cut the chicane to bail out of a move, but why should they? Ultimately, they are trying to get an overtake done and if they are in control of their car but are simply forced wide, that's not right. Why should a driver face the possibility of a warning or lose a position because they have been forced off the track? It should be the defending driver who is punished because they have not left any room. Nikita Mazepin received huge backlash at the Dutch GP when he forced Mick Schumacher towards a bollard on the main straight. Ex-F1 driver Kevin Magnussen has made similar manoeuvres in the past and was criticised harshly. The same criticism needs to be given to drivers who force their competitors wide in a corner. Alonso once said, "All the time you have to leave the space", and he's absolutely right. The problem F1 faces is, apart from at this year's Austrian GP, it's been largely acceptable to run your rivals off the track and not be punished for it. Many fans have become used to it, too, so they don't call it out as much as it should when it happens. More importantly, the drivers including the more experienced drivers such as Hamilton have become more aggressive so they don't lose out in a fight. In most cases, a driver should never be forced to back down from a battle, but that's exactly what Verstappen and other drivers have created. It's a fear factor, but it has to be stopped.

Hamilton and Verstappen could easily have raced through the next series of corners at Monza, but we were robbed of that, just like we were at Silverstone when Hamilton caused Verstappen to have a big accident. It's become normal to cut chicanes or collide when racing and that's not right. F1 has to look at how the drivers go racing and think, 'Is this what we want?' If there are no changes and forcing drivers off the track becomes acceptable, the next generation of drivers will do it too, and then it becomes an impossible situation to resolve. Fans have a part to play as well because many were furious when Vettel was penalised in Canada 2019 or happy that Leclerc wasn't punished in Monza two years ago, or Hamilton in USA 2015. If that's what people want to see, that's their choice, but don't get frustrated if there are more incidents and collisions. The last thing F1 needs is someone to get injured because two highly motivated drivers don't give each other enough room.

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