F1 Saudi Arabia 2021: Hamilton Takes Control As F1 Loses It

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Read time: 8 mins

I don’t know whether it’s a good or a bad thing that I’ve written a good chunk of this race review on Saturday. There’s been a lot to discuss this weekend, and I’m not going to ignore the elephants in the room with some of the larger news issues in here. So let’s break down Saudi Arabia, a round that was always going to be universally loved. *sarcasm meter explodes*

The Ethics Committee

This was not a good weekend for people in the paddock to show their ass regarding morals in the sport. Mercedes taking on Kingspan as a partner was… ridiculous. Their open letter defending their decision was even worse. For those unaware, Kingspan and their not-fit-for-purpose cladding was largely responsible for the fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017 that killed 72 people. The enquiry into their deaths is still going on as you read this post. And knowing how my country works, I don’t think those grieving families will ever get the justice they deserve. 

It’s bad enough that the British media were determined to make this a Lewis Hamilton issue rather than the man who literally runs and owns a third of the team. This as a man who publicly lent his support towards those grieving families. But it’s what we do here, we like taking our own athletes down a peg. Because Lewis Hamilton is the sports transcendent star, and one of about two F1 drivers that have genuinely gone beyond wearing a T-Shirt in their show of activism, he now has to be the moral arbiter of everything his team and sport does because he’s the one man who’s dared lift his head above the parapet. 

From asinine questions from the media after Saturday, to “This Morning” and the Guardian newspapers framing Hamilton in the headlines as desperate grabs for attention. They know exactly what they’re doing, by any means necessary. I don’t envy the horrible situation Hamilton’s been dropped in the middle of. 

And you know what the worst part of this was? All of what I’ve just said, from the criticisms of Mercs to MP Michael Gove grandstanding over the deal for some sickening clout, to the defending of Lewis is a distraction from the biggest issue of all. And that’s Grenfell United’s continued fight for justice. 

As for Daniel Ricciardo’s comments on Saudi Arabia’s human rights issues, describing them as “negativity”… it was clumsy at best. He has a level of privilege where he can be ignorant to the news, where many people just don’t get that luxury. The unfortunate truth of being an F1 fan from the outside looking in, is we’re dealing with multi-millionaires (and in the earlier case, teams) that live in bubbles where morals can be chucked aside.

People like Seb and Lewis are the exception, not the norm. And even they are far from perfect, even if social media expects them to be now they’ve projected some altruism. I hope Daniel learns from this, but if you really wanna rag him for something, the man admitted last week he’s a huge fan of Barstool Sports. Your favourites are problematic. We’re just going to have to accept that.

This Track Is Wild

I’ve never been so grateful we have onboard cameras, because they’ve done a tremendous job of showing just how friggin’ nuts this track is. 157mph average speed in Quali trim. 79% of the lap at full throttle. Three spots on track at 200mph. Many blind corners with terrifying differences in full speed laps and cars off the racing line. Virtually no room for error with very limited run off. The Tilke family wanted to make this the fastest street circuit in the world, compromise be damned. And they can certainly say they’ve done that. It also sits right on that line between thrilling and utterly terrfying.

And it’s worth mentioning what a brilliant Qualifying finale that was. Hamilton pulls off a 27.5 and we think it’s game over. Then Verstappen is absolutely at the limit, 0.4 seconds up on his own delta and three tenths faster than Hamilton in what would have been the lap of the year. Right up until he hit the wall on the final corner. A darn shame. Look, full disclosure, I’d rather Hamilton win this title than Max, but I’m a fan of the sport first and I wanted to see that bonkers lap in full. And I don’t care what you tell me, if you didn’t enjoy that, what the heck are you watching for?!

Frankenstein’s Monster

The Formula 2 Feature Race had cars head through the track backwards, reduced to 20 minutes, and ended in 12 with two men in a hospital wing. That didn’t make the Top 5 of crazy shit we got on Sunday. (Get well soon Enzo. <3)

This race was completely ridiculous. In every conceivable way. And it’s hard to even find the right angle to approach it all. It’s like an oversized burger and you’re looking for that first bite.

We as an audience like to play the blame game. It’s easier to deal with it all when you can just point to where you think the problem is. I try very hard not to play that game because rarely is an on-track incident a slam dunk. This time though, I’ve got a clear target in my sights. 

It’s not Lewis Hamilton. That’s a given. Largely an innocent bystander through most of the incidents involved. When we got Hamilton’s main pass attempt around the outside of the poorly designed Turn 1. I don’t think it was anywhere near as clear cut a pass as it was in Brazil where Max probably should have gotten a 5-second penalty. I think that Max claiming the corner was just about fair game. This time he wasn’t so lucky.

As for Hamilton running into the back of Verstappen, I think that was a genuine miscommunication. I suspect Hamilton didn’t have a clue that Max was going to intentionally give up the lead. If anything, I think Hamilton was probably wary of Spa 2008 and the potential for the immediate counter. There was a fair amount of mitigation here.

I know a lot of people are waiting for me to bury Max Verstappen for allegedly driving like a prick. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not really going to do that either. Here’s the thing, when I was watching this race, I was pondering to myself what was Max really guilty of. Debatable penalty calls that ride the line of the rulebook to the limit. I think the 5-second call for leaving the track on Lap 37 was a “make-up call” after Brazil wasn’t even investigated. That’s single-handedly what led to the messy Mercedes Right to Review that was thrown out. In real time, I didn’t think the Turn 27 incident was a brake-check, and the stewards report of Max’s 10 second penalty for it doesn’t scream the “intentional break-test” that so many want it to be. 

I said it at Monza, and I’ll repeat myself here – This is Max Verstappen’s 140th GP weekend. This isn’t a new trait or habit he’s picked up. He’s ALWAYS been this way. Only back then we were too busy gushing over his potential and what he could become. And now he’s here, he’s dancing with the tactics that made him the driver he is now. 

Max is the modern day Schumacher of the 90’s. The problem with that, is that we’ve moved on from that style of driver. He’s as close to a true F1 heel figure as it gets. And he’s really, really good at flirting with the lines of what’s legal and what isn’t. It’s what we beloved so many drivers of years past for doing. You can say he’s dirty all you like… to an extent, it’s worked. It’s a part of what’s made him as good as anyone in the world. And now he’s in that conversation, we see both sides of what makes Max the driver he is. Let’s not forget, he hit Ocon and Hamilton with a double pass into Turn 1 on the third standing start, an exceptional bit of driving. It’s always been borderline, just now it’s on a much bigger stage.

Nope… I’m pointing the finger directly at the FIA and the entire stewarding process. They’ve been the enablers of the exact activity in the last three paragraphs. I created a running joke of “The Verstappen Amendment” for this very reason. Austria a couple of years back set a precedent where you could run a guy four wheels off the track and potentially not get punished for it. The fact that the way this sport has been officiated, now has me doubting every call or non-call the sport makes. I don’t want to do that, but I have to because I can’t trust the officiating process, the rotating hive of stewards, and the enforcement of the rulebook. It makes Verstappen’s actions understandable by proxy, because he knows the stewards have a chance to bail him out of a lot of marginal moves. 

During the red flag, we saw a literal PLEA DEAL on public FIA Radio after Verstappen took the piss at Turn 1. This, just to take it out of the stewards hands. It was wild. And amazingly, I thought that was the BEST part of the officiating on the day.

I’ve tried with Michael Masi. And he’s a very easy target here. So much so he is the brunt of EVERYTHING. Even the stuff he has nothing to do with, like penalties. I will always have a level of empathy towards him because he was put in a horribly difficult situation when Charlie Whiting suddenly passed away while he was learning on the job. He was never going to compare, especially with the extra emotion fans would be carrying because Charlie passed on so suddenly. Not to mention, being a referee is a loveless, thankless job in almost any sport. You’re expected to be perfect and you will be buried the moment you’re deemed to have screwed up. (And trust me, F2’s lot isn’t exactly popular either)

But this was the Wild West. This was embarrassing. Everyone involved in the decision making process looked like goons. The timing of the red flag for Schumacher’s wreck was a bad look given many cars had already stopped under the Safety Car. The last VSC seemed excessively long for little reason. The friggin’ plea deal! The make-up call for Brazil! And the miscommunication that I’m adamant was a factor in the Hamilton/Verstappen hit at Turn 27. And depending on your opinion of that incident, the 10-second penalty for Max afterwards.

It was farcical. Brazil had a controversial flashpoint, but that was the GOOD kind of chaos. This was the bad kind. We have a title fight with the two best drivers in the world TIED ON POINTS GOING INTO A FINALE, and I’m more frustrated than excited, and it all comes back to the stewarding process.

This needs a drastic overhaul in the off-season. Because this race made it seem like the inmates were running the asylum, and Batman isn’t going to come flying in to save the day.

Dre’s Race Rating: ???/10 – I got nothing here. I honestly refuse to rate this race. Remember that test match that went viral earlier this year between England and India? The one where Joe Root, England batter but part-time spinner went 5-8 and the Test was over in 2 days? THAT was this race. Was it spectacular? Yes. Is it something you kinda have to see? Yes. Was it good? Aw hell NO.  If I was in charge of that pitch, or this race, it’s not exactly one I’d put on my CV and tell the grandkids about. But hey, this is what we all wanted, right? Right?

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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