Verstappen’s racing craft and behavior in close battles has been widely praised this year. But it was the Red Bull driver who received a penalty for causing a collision with Hamilton as they battled for second on the first safety car restart, the pair hit by the Senna esses.
Verstappen had taken the high line into Turn 1 in an attempt to get in for the hairpin and pass Hamilton, knowing he had to be aggressive if he wanted to take the fight to Mercedes given his sprint racing struggles.
But Verstappen seemed to run out of space as the apex approached, something he blamed on Hamilton. When he returned to the pits to get a new front wing, Verstappen claimed Hamilton was not leaving him room. Hamilton, meanwhile, said on the radio that it was “not a racing incident”.
The stewards gave Verstappen a five-second penalty for the collision, but many fans didn’t know who was to blame. The stewards’ ruling even noted that Hamilton could have left a little more room, meaning Verstappen was “predominantly”, not “entirely”, to blame.
The discussion about such overtaking maneuvers and who is entitled to a corner was clearer last year, in particular due to the duels on the track between Verstappen and Hamilton, in which the former sometimes bent his elbows a little too sharply. Ahead of the 2022 season, a set of guidelines was issued to drivers on overtaking behavior that go some way to explaining why Verstappen received the penalty he received at Interlagos.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13, collide
Photo by: Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images
According to the guidelines, a driver overtaking on the inside had to be given enough room to have a “considerable portion” of the car alongside. The overtaking maneuver must be done in a safe and controlled manner.
What is defined as a “significant proportion” is at the discretion of the stewards, but an important consideration should be whether the front tires of the overtaking car are adjacent to the other car at the latest at the apex of the corner.
Although Verstappen’s front wheels were next to Hamilton’s car – in line with his sidepod – as they approached the apex, the stewards did not feel they had full control of the car, claiming his turn 1 overtake was not completed .
“Verstappen tried to pass Hamilton on the outside of Turn 1 by braking very late,” the stewards’ report read. “He didn’t complete the pass in Turn 1 and his excessive speed made his entry into Turn 2 difficult, after which he made contact with Hamilton.”
So while Verstappen technically had a significant portion of his car alongside Hamilton’s, the speed at which he was driving meant it couldn’t be done in a safe and controlled manner.
Hamilton had little to say about the incident after the race, but looked vaguely at Verstappen’s move in parc ferme and said simply: “Well, you know how it is with Max…”
Pressed further into what he meant in the post-race press conference, Hamilton explained that he thought it was “natural when you have the success and the numbers on your chest that you become a bit of a target.”
“But it’s OK,” he added. “It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13, on the infield after contact with Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Verstappen stood his ground after the race, saying he felt Hamilton had “no intention whatsoever” of giving him any room in the corner. “If he had moved up just a little bit, he probably would have stayed ahead anyway,” he said. “It’s a shame. I want to race. I want to have a good fight, but if the other one doesn’t want to work with you…”
The dust may have long since settled on their 2021 title fight, but Interlagos showed that future wheel-to-wheel battles between Verstappen and Hamilton will continue to be a talking point going forward – even if the rules are now clearer to determine who is right and who is wrong.