You know that old and wise saying “The F1 World Championships are not won and not lost in a race“? Here you are: take it and throw it in the undifferentiated. The most Hollywood world ever was decided in a few corners. And the winner was Max Verstappen and his Red Bull: they dared more, all weekend, all season. Harder to digest, however, the fact that the tip of the balance was Nicholas Latifi, an anonymous driver on the verge of nonexistence. The Timo Glock of the third millennium. Without the safety car triggered by his accident, Lewis Hamilton would have gone on to take the eighth title. The margin he had over Max allowed him to do so, despite the much older tires. Then it all went wrong.
In fact, everything had gone wrong from the start. The photo of the qualifying was quite clear: Verstappen and Red Bull committed to risk as much as possible by playing above all on qualifying, with a frighteningly low set-up for a medium downforce circuit (after the changes), in an attempt to start from pole. Successful attempt, with Soft tires after having flattened one of the Medium train used in Q2. So, in theory, Max had at the start an advantage of position and mechanical grip to stay in front; an advantage that would then have paid off with a shorter “stint” before the pit stop. And instead on the shot, or rather on the reflection at “getaway“(Excuse the Anglicisms: it is the motion from a standing position) Hamilton burned it. A matter of many details, from the psychophysical reaction to clutch control.
In fact, Mercedes found themselves leading the race, which they probably did not expect. Verstappen, on the other hand, had to react immediately and did so at the first real braking. And here comes the other supporting protagonist, the referee Michael Masi. I’m not a Mercedes fan, even if some are convinced, and I don’t find anything wrong with Verstappen’s maneuver: he detached inside (he had less wing, so he was fast on the forehand, and more grip from the tires) and was completing the attack. Sure, so he forced Hamilton out, but if we wait for a ‘clean’ overtaking in a race like this, maybe we have to settle for dubbing. Nothing, however, compared to the advantage accumulated by Mercedes which practically spared itself a curve, cutting through the escape routes, as always slow-down-proof. It seemed obvious to me that Ham should return the position, they also expected it from its wall. But not only the management decided in the opposite direction: it also communicated to Red Bull that “the accumulated benefit had already been paid back“. And how, if Lewis had moved on by more than a second?
Then, of course, Mercedes made a mistake not to change the tires and I think James Vowles, the team strategist, will be on the grid as much as Ferrari’s Chris Dyer was in the same GP eleven years ago. But whoever is behind always has the advantage of being able to control you and try the opposite tactic, either it goes or breaks it. We could also discuss the lack of homogeneity of the measures: why the Virtual Safety Car for Giovinazzi’s stop and the ‘real’ one for Latifi’s accident? There was room to recover the Williams and there was no debris on the asphalt. Why the first time you try to freeze the gaps and in the end to cancel them? I am reminded of the times when F1 mocked the American Indycar for certain procedures… But what it is hard to understand is Masi’s communications. English will also be a flexible language, but “Lapped cars will not be allowed to overtake”Has only one meaning: the lapped cannot – and will not be able to – overtake the car of the commissioners and then re-queue. And where did such a message come from? Based on this criterion (criterion ????) Lewis should have started with a ‘pillow’ of voiced between himself and his rival. This was once done, but the procedure has changed for years. One could argue that there was no time to complete it, at the risk of finishing the race under yellow flags and then you know how sad. But then let’s go back to the VSC discourse: if they had activated it again, at least they would have demonstrated consistency.
In fact, the subsequent communication overturned the concept. At that point, with fresh Soft tires, Verstappen had the victory in his pocket (and also the extra point of the fastest lap). Hamilton and Mercedes understood this and played in a “differently clean” way, with the driver who practically stopped trying to get Red Bull to overtake on the track, an objection later raised in the Mercedes protest. In addition to discussing – and this is us – the doubling procedure.
I write without knowing and without believing that the FIA is going to get further dirty, overturning the outcome of the race. On balance, it was a beautiful world championship, one of the few in history where the winner may not have – certainly not always – the superior car. Mercedes can also blame herself for the excess of prudence and obviousness shown, not only today, in the management from the wall. In any case, it takes home yet another Constructors title of the hybrid era. Enough with the bitter controversy, otherwise we would end up discussing even the “unsportsmanlike” behavior of Sergio Perez who instead of looking after, as a driver should, to go as fast as possible, waited for Hamilton to slow him down, moreover in a super professional way and super correct. But beware that mine is a provocation.