Max Verstappen Penalized Post-Race for Brake Checking Move

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Max Verstappen has been assessed a ten second post-race time penalty and two penalty points for his role in an in-race collision with race winner Lewis Hamilton during today’s inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The penalty stacks with a previous five second time penalty for advancing his position by going off-track, the direct precursor to the incident leading to the larger second penalty. He was also moved to third on a restart for the same infraction earlier in the race, but was not officially penalized.

Max Verstappen Penalized Post-Race for Brake Checking Move
© Lars Baron – Getty Images Verstappen’s additional time penalty of ten seconds does not change the final result of the race.

Could Lap 37 in Jeddah be one of the defining moments of the season? 🤯#SaudiArabianGP 🇸🇦 #F1 pic.twitter.com/vfrLzUVJW9

— Formula 1 (@F1) December 5, 2021

The incident, shown in the video above, occurred when Verstappen slowed on the back straight in an attempt to let Hamilton back past into the race lead and avoid the exact five second penalty Verstappen would later be assessed. He stayed in the middle of the narrow track, leaving unclear windows to the left and right and not visibly signaling that he was slowing intentionally. Hamilton, reportedly unaware of the decision by Verstappen to slow and let him by at this point, tried to lie back out of the way in confusion, only to finally attempt a move when Verstappen slowed even further and find himself tapping the Red Bull’s left-rear wheel. Hamilton suffered light damage to his front wing, but both cars were able to finish the race without incident.

Stewards explain that key to the penalty is “the driver of Car 33 then braked suddenly (69 bar) and significantly, resulting in 2.4g deceleration”.

10 seconds is given for being predominantly at fault for causing a collision. Also two penalty points (7 in total now) #F1 https://t.co/NdDAKGrtYD

— Chris Medland (@ChrisMedlandF1) December 5, 2021

According to the official steward ruling, that second attempt to slow down is what caused the penalty. Because Verstappen decelerated significantly and unexpectedly, he escalated the situation from an odd miscommunication to an actual collision. As a result, he was penalized what the stewards would typically give a driver for causing such a collision. It does not change the result of the race at all, of course, but it represents an official declaration that Verstappen did the wrong thing and an official precedent about the action going forward.

The relatively insignificant penalty means that Verstappen and Hamilton will remain tied heading into the final race weekend of the season. It will be the first Formula 1 finale since 1974 with two title contenders tied heading into the race.

In total, that means Max Verstappen was found by stewards to have committed a driving standards violation in a battle with Lewis Hamilton three times in today’s race alone. He was also officially warned for weaving on track once in the most recent race before this, the Brazilian Grand Prix. He was not penalized or warned for another incident in which he held the lead by going off-track in that race. All five incidents were in a battle for the lead with Hamilton. Although Hamilton has previously been penalized for causing his own collisions with Verstappen this season himself, the blame over the past two races has fallen squarely on the Red Bull driver.

If previous history is any indication, that will be taken into account at Yas Marina next weekend. Officials would be on the lookout for any significant action by Verstappen in the race that will decide the title, with a much more aggressive arsenal of penalties at the ready if he does cause a championship-deciding collision in what would be his sixth run-in with Hamilton over three races.

While any penalty for either Hamilton or Verstappen will depend entirely on whether or not a theoretical incident actually happens, the severity of the penalties available to FIA-endorsed stewards is near-infinite. In 1997, Formula 1 officials disqualified Michael Schumacher for an entire season for causing a title-swinging collision. They also disqualified Ayrton Senna from a single racein 1989 for a similar infraction, costing him the 1989 championship.

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