The penalties handed out to Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen for the recent clashes between the two reflect the tight margins when apportioning blame, according to FIA race director Michael Masi.
Hamilton was handed a 10 second time penalty in the British Grand Prix for the contact that resulted in Verstappen crashing at Copse, while Verstappen earned a three-place grid drop for the upcoming race in Russia as a result of the contact that eliminated both drivers from Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix. Race officials have the power to issue much more severe sanctions for contact, and Masi said the punishments in these two cases showed how tight the incidents were.
“I think one of the things that we’ve generally (agreed) amongst the teams is that a five or a 10 second penalty, give or take, is there or thereabouts between the two of them,” Masi said. “You need to look at it on the basis of, if they had continued, it would have been the time penalty in the race.
“However, they didn’t, so in Silverstone you can’t compare them at all. You’ve got two cars taken out in one incident, versus one car taken out in another incident – as in, they couldn’t continue to serve a penalty (within the race). A grid penalty, as we’ve agreed with all of the teams, is what’s applied this year when someone doesn’t continue.”
Masi doesn’t believe the level of aggression between the two drivers has been getting worse, despite there having been two collisions in the last five races after a number of near-misses earlier in the year.
“I think the pattern of escalation is a perception for some, depending on which person you’re looking at supporting,” he said. “I think if you asked Christian (Horner), you’d probably get a completely different perspective on it. I am not going to get into the games. We have a very close, exciting championship between two fantastic drivers, and that’s the part we all should be focusing on.”
One worrying aspect of the Monza crash was Verstappen’s car being launched on top of Hamilton’s by an apex curb at the chicane, resulting in his right rear wheel striking the Mercedes driver. However, Masi said that most drivers had made a point of trying to avoid the curb in question throughout the weekend, whuch suggested that it was doing its job as a deterrent.
“In that situation, I think the sausage curb works quite well in that particular corner,” he said. “It was a driver’s choice – you can drive into the curb or go to the left of it, which we saw numerous times over the course of the weekend. A number of people in similar situations chose to go left of the curb through those little bumps, and rejoined.”