Pub quiz question: Why did the only major crash of the 2017 US Grand Prix take place after the race had ended?
Answer: Looks like the FIA’s website paid the price for some fan-maddening stewarding.
Pity, as it was quite a good race too.
On which laps do the F1 rules apply?
The biggest story of the US Grand Prix wasn’t Lewis Hamilton getting to within five points of being crowned World Champion. Or Mercedes winning the Constructors’ title for the fourth consecutive year.
No, it was all about Max Verstappen’s cheeky and illegal overtake of Kimi Raikkonen in the closing corners of the race.
You missed it? With both Ferraris slowing, the hard-charging Verstappen pulled off an in-your-face pass on Kimi at turn 16 but, alas, cut the corner in the process.
Not surprisingly, and somewhat irritatingly, this is against the rules and, for his troubles, Verstappen was handed a five-second time penalty and a penalty point on his licence too, all of which meant he finished fourth instead of third.
The thing is, drivers had been abusing track limits all weekend – Sebastian Vettel’s blistering start also involved him putting four wheels off the track, but he wasn’t punished, even though he’d gained a clear advantage by taking the lead from Hamilton.
In F1, stewards get to decide if a driver has gained a lasting advantage by sticking all four wheels over the white lines that signal the track edge.
Which is, when you think about it, a bit odd: if drivers didn’t gain an advantage, why on god’s green earth would they do it? Huh? Couldn’t be bothered to turn the wheel?
You know how, in football, the referee will often decide to wave play on if a team accidentally kicks the ball just a little bit out of play, because they didn’t get any lasting advantage?
No, me neither. The white lines are there for a reason in football and F1, and in rugby and in athletics and in tennis. Ask John McEnroe.
But only in F1 do the referees regularly – several times a lap – choose to ignore excursions over these lines, making a mockery of the rule book.
Then, when they finally do decide to penalise a driver, they can find themselves in a right old motorsport pickle.
Verstappen broke the rules and so he was, rightly, punished. Vettel also broke the white line rule, but it was at the start and wasn’t punished, presumably because drivers get a bit of leeway in the mad dash through the opening corners – but he certainly gained an advantage, grabbing first position.
And, lap after lap, in the race and in qualifying, drivers up and down the grid kept running wide, over the white lines, without so much as a wag of the finger from the stewards.
Listen, if running wide over the white lines isn’t illegal, then write the rule book accordingly. That’s the whole point of rules, see? To enforce consistent limits to what is acceptable, to establish what counts as cheating, you know, THE RULES.
The Verstappen penalty really wound fans up for a couple of reasons – it hurt that the driver of the day (and he was) was punished for one of the most impressive-looking overtakes of the season. And it really hurt that the stewards were utterly inconsistent in applying the rules of the sport, as they always are.
That is, presumably, why the website of motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, was out of service in the hours after the race – or perhaps that was just a cruel coincidence, and not the result of a biblical flood of hate-mail from F1 fans.
Either way, it served the FIA right. Do your job, people.
But wait, there’s more on Max
Verstappen started way back in 16th, thanks to engine penalties – though he would have been further back if not for the regular chaotic mish-mash of other penalties being served by everyone and his dog.
He then carved his way through the field, making full use of the Red Bull’s nimbleness, its (not as good as Mercedes or Ferrari) engine and his own instinctive aggressiveness until he finally landed that third-place and, he thought, a spot on the podium.
And so the viewing public was treated to the sight of him discussing the race, and that fateful overtaking manoeuvre, with Vettel in the cool-down room prior to the podium ceremony.
By this time, we all knew he’d been kicked down to fourth and off the podium.
The man he passed, Raikkonen, knew too, heading for the cool-down room with a wry smile playing across his traditionally miserable post-race face. He may just have been embarrassed, or as bemused as the rest of us.
Everybody, it seemed, knew apart from Verstappen and the other podium participants.
Then Raikkonen appeared in the room, but Verstappen was still on cloud nine. Raikkonen’s subtle smile was still there and, soon after, Verstappen’s face also bore a subtle, if somewhat resigned, smile as he was finally told he’d been booted.
It was almost as if the authorities had deliberately set him up for a bit of post-race humiliation, and it was deeply uncomfortable, if fascinating (you bet we were all ears).
Grand soap opera it may have been but it was a bit of a rubbish way to treat the man. He’d just put in the most entertaining drive of the day, fired up fans around the world and further established his credentials as a champion-in-waiting.
Was there really no way of letting him know he’d been punished a little sooner?
Like, before I knew, for example?
It’s bad enough that the FIA bods can’t work out what a rule book is for. But surely even they can work out how to get an important message to a driver before every Tom, Dick and Henrietta around the world gets to hear about it.
OK, who lost the FIA phone?
Lest we forget, the rest of the race
Lewis Hamilton won, despite losing the lead to arch-rival Vettel at the start, and is now five points away from being crowned 2017 champion – as stated previously.
Immediately after the race, Hamilton said the event, at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, had been ‘So much fun’.
He wasn’t being entirely up-front – at least twice during the race, he called his team demanding to know why the drivers behind him had managed to get so close during pit-stop phases, and he certainly didn’t sound like a man having fun then.
But he had more fun than Vettel who, despite that flawless start that helped him punt Hamilton down to second, spent a large part of the race back in fourth and fifth positions, before clawing his way up to third on lap 51.
That lap 51 overtake, though, was worth waiting for – round the outside of turn 1, Bottas defending on his inside, backmarker Stoffel Vandoorne on the outside, Vettel punching his way through the gap and setting the crowd roaring.
Mercedes took the Constructors’ championship but, although their cars were fast, they looked a bit twitchy too. Hamilton played a blinder, Valtteri Bottas had another confidence-sapping weekend, finishing in fifth behind both Ferraris and a Red Bull… and would more than likely have finished sixth if Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull hadn’t expired on lap 16.
Carlos Sainz made an impressive debut for Renault, splitting the still-warring Force Indias with a hard-fought seventh place.
Talking of Force India, resident whinge Sergio Perez found himself behind team-mate Esteban Ocon and made a couple of his traditional ‘Tell Ocon to drive faster’ transmissions.
For his part, Ocon looked to have the measure of Perez and, to rub salt in Perez’s wounds, his race engineer told him the reason Ocon wasn’t going faster is because he was managing his car properly – and it would be a good idea if Perez did the same thing. Ouch.
In the end, Ocon finished sixth, Perez eighth, and Force India were happy enough to have all but guaranteed themselves fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship and a healthy pot of prize money to boot.
F1 newbie Brendon Hartley brought his Toro Rosso home in a creditable 13th, while F1 yo-yo Daniil Kvyatt scored a welcome point in the other Toro Rosso in tenth place.
If truth be told, the race was a cracking all-American (cheerleaders, cheesy announcers and Bill Clinton on trophy duty) advert for F1 despite the Verstappen fiasco, with some top-notch racing (Ocon, Sainz and Perez get special plaudits in the midfield) and, of course, Stevie Wonder as the reward for punters who hung around after the F1 garages pulled down the shutters.
Next up, Mexico in just a week. It’s a high-altitude and bumpy circuit at which Hamilton should be crowned king, and it brings the risk of wrestling masks and sombreros.
What’s not to like?