Formula One is a tightly woven machine – and it only takes one malformed part to plague the entire sport.
The result of the American Grand Prix was tough to swallow. After what seemed like an incredible last-lap pass put on Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the global audience was treated to one of the most cringe-inducing moments to grace the sport since the Grand Prix’s ridiculously theatric opening.
In a split-decision made by the stewards, Verstappen was handed a five-second penalty, which dropped him firmly behind Raikkonen and led to one of the most awkward stare-offs in the cooldown room. After Verstappen had been escorted away and Raikkonen took his place alongside teammate Sebastian Vettel, the sport was thrown into disarray.
So, what happened? After review, the stewards came forth and issued a statement, saying that Verstappen had illegally passed Raikkonen as he placed all four wheels on the curbing – citing that he went “off track”. Understandably, the opposition came out in full force. Even Mercedes chairman and F1 Legend Niki Lauda came out against the penalty – going so far as to say that the stewards were “destroying the sport” with their decisions.
The most upsetting part of it all, however? Lauda is right. The Formula One stewards have proven time and again that they are fantastically consistent in their inconsistency. Although they miraculously managed to make it through the majority of the 2017 season without much controversy, it was only a matter of time before the past repeated itself.
Being on any sort of rule-enforcement body is a thankless job. When your career revolves around “correcting” the actions of others, you certainly won’t be feeling a lot of love. In the case of Verstappen/Raikkonen however, it seems that the stewards are doing their best to make enemies.
The justification that Verstappen was riding outside of the “track limits” is absurd. Since when was the curbing no longer a part of the track? What constitutes the track? Only the tarmac that’s between the white lines? Please.
Perhaps it was only a moment of fervor that gripped a steward- desperate for relevancy – to throw the wrench in and gum up the works, but it’s a recurring issue that Liberty Media cannot afford to have repeated. Verstappen has absolutely no chance of competing for the championship – but imagine if he was in the midst of a title battle with another driver? The results of the steward’s call would have been horrendous.
Whatever lies in store for the policing body of Formula One remains to be seen, but if the sport is going to have any hope of remaining relevant well into the future, it will need to reign in its rogue parts.