Fool Me Once... Shame on you...
“Let them race” was the reaction from the Race Director following the equivalent of a “custard pie to the face” delivered by Verstappen at the Brazilian Grand Prix when he forced himself and Hamilton off the track trying to defend his position. Being a sceptic, I assume Max leaving the track together with Lewis was to lend credibility to the idea that; he “misjudged” his braking, resulting in a deeper than normal entry, culminating in both parties running out of road at the exit. Ergo “it wasn’t deliberate your honour?” I guess it was this received wisdom that led to the “let them race” decision and the subsequent non-penalty for Max. All this was done of course without consulting the onboard footage of either driver. (Apparently, they only get the track feed like everyone else at the time and have to wait for Formula One to supply this). “Let them race”. The rolling of the driver’s eyes in the paddock after the Grand Prix was almost deafening. Normally, there are nothing race drivers like more than ambiguity, but not one you can drive the preverbal “big red bus” through - especially at high speeds. Max to his credit, pushed the art of Steward misdirection to the limit in Brazil - necessary when the stakes are so high and the Championship so tight. But now the grey area is not only just about track limits but driver conduct under overtaking. What was already opaque, has now become decidedly muddied (if that were possible?). With several drivers already publicly asking what the rules of engagement are. The decision to “Let them race” against what transpired was probably a low point in their quest. Cue Saudi Grand Prix and the world (Max) takes a turn for the surreal. Not content with his Brazilian “Custard pie”, he then proceeds to go to the next level - burning down the house and nailing his dog to the fence.
Having unnecessarily blobbed Turn 27 when pole was already in the bag during Q3. He then proceeded to make a series of howlers throughout the race that even his diehard fans struggled to defend. Lady Luck conspired twice to give him the win. The first time when he got the chance to get a "free" tire change when the safety car was converted into a red flag. Then after the second restart with one virtual safety car after another for what seemed at times to be virtual reasons. He had the lead, he had the pace, and with overtaking almost impossible on this circuit, all he had to do was manage the tires and bring it home. This was well within the realms of possibility based on Pirelli’s predictions for his “mediums” following all the safety cars. And then he did it again! Following a deep entry into Turn 27, Hamilton finally got in touch with the Red Bull on the exit, giving him DRS on the straight. The 36 year old then passed the Dutchman on the outside going into Turn 1. Max’s reply was to execute essentially the same stunt he pulled in Brazil - come off the brakes early and barrel in. Only this time there was no fooling and no shaming of the Stewards. Having no more truck with his “Max Verstappen here... coming through!” manoeuvres. He was directed to give back the position after driving Hamilton and himself of the track to regain the lead. His team told him to do this… “strategically” (I guess they also meant subtly to but hey ho). Having realised that the “DRS hand back” ruse had been rumbled, Max unilaterally appeared to engage plan “trash his front wing” by way of a simple “brake test”. And there it was, bang, Lewis’s front wing was damaged. Job done. Only it wasn’t… Unbeknown to Max Lady Luck had decided to abandon him and turn her attentions to a more grateful recipient. Despite the damaged wing, Lewis then proceeded to pull away to secure his 103rd victory, 27 points (one for fastest lap). Whereas Max won an additional 10-second penalty, two points on his license and a dramatic reduction in both his Championship lead and fanbase. Bring it on Abu Dhabi.