‘Let them race’ is right idea but leaves too much to interpretation.
The duel between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen for this year’s Formula 1 title has included several contentious moments, the latest in Brazil recently when the pair were battling for the lead.
Mercedes-AMG’s British ace tried to pass his rival around the outside at Descida do Lago, but the Red Bull man rebuffed the manoeuvre, resulting in both running wide out of the corner and nearly touching.
Did Verstappen deliberately run Hamilton wide to force him to back out? Or was he ahead going into the corner and therefore entitled to pick his line? The stewards investigated and eventually ruled that no further action was required.
End of, then? Of course not. Mercedes and Red Bull have kept on squabbling about whether Verstappen’s defence was fair racing or dangerous driving, as have fans on social media. And it’s confusing, given that F1 stewards have penalised similar moves in the past.
F1 race director Michael Masi suggested that Verstappen was let off due to a general principle to ‘let them race’, which is a sound sentiment but one lacking in detail.
The big problem is that it isn’t really clear to most people watching what exactly the standards are. Even the handful of rules established over the years – such as the ‘one-move’ rule when defending on the straights or how far alongside another car a driver has to be to have a claim to a corner – are somewhat open to interpretation.
They also create further problems, such as legitimising drivers in making often hugely aggressive blocking moves to cut a rival’s momentum on high-speed straights.
I like the philosophy of ‘let them race’, being of the view that any race should be decided on the track and not in the stewards’ room. It’s frustrating that Hamilton and Verstappen’s near miss took away some of the focus from Hamilton’s amazing drive.
However, I also know that it isn’t practical. If we’re going to have close on-track battling in high-speed F1 cars (and with next year’s new rules package, we will hopefully get even more), there needs to be a basic set of standards. And, crucially, it needs to be applied consistently.
Perhaps just as important, there needs to be more clear communication about why certain moves are or aren’t penalised. Obviously, no two incidents are the same, so explaining stewards’ decisions properly would help to quell talk about inconsistent penalties and make F1 easier to follow.
The key, though, is that even when there are penalties given, they shouldn’t distract from the action on the track.