The Japanese Grand Prix involved several contentious moments, creating a busy afternoon for the race stewards.
While three time penalties were handed out, there were another two incidents which some have argued required a penalty for one of the drivers involved. Although he delegates the responsibility of in-race penalties to a team of race stewards, which alternate at every event, F1’s race director Charlie Whiting used his regular post-race media briefing in Suzuka to explain the logic behind each one of them.
Max Verstappen’s incidents with the Ferraris
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen received a five-second time penalty for leaving the track and not returning safely after he made contact with Kimi Raikkonen at the Japan Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen had a action-packed start to his race at Suzuka. The Dutchman earned himself a five-second time penalty for a collision with Kimi Raikkonen at the end of lap one — Verstappen had run wide at the final chicane and squeezed the Ferrari driver as he re-joined the track. Verstappen was unhappy with the penalty, and Raikkonen admitted after the race he could have waited to pass him, but Whiting said it was an obvious decision.
“I think the first one was quite clearly a penalty because Max went off the track and re-joined the track unsafely,” he said. “You’re required to re-join safely and Kimi was there and he pushed him off the track. I think that was a fairly straightforward one for the stewards.
Several laps later, Verstappen collided with the other Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel at Spoon corner. Vettel had tried an optimistic lunge down the inside of the corner — a move Verstappen said was never on in the first place — and was spun around from the resulting contact. Vettel blamed Verstappen for the incident but on this occasion the 21-year-old avoided punishment.
“The second one was a bit of a classic really. Seb tried to get up the inside, it was a reasonable move, got halfway alongside, Max turned in, a bit of a classic really. As you know stewards don’t normally give penalties unless they are sure one driver was wholly or predominantly to blame. Opinions will vary whether it was equal blame, but certainly no driver was predominantly to blame.”
Verstappen used his post-race media to compare Vettel’s passing attempt to their collision in China, where the Red Bull driver’s rash attempt to get past led to contact and both men spinning around. Whiting does not think a comparison between the two is fair.
“That was at the hairpin. He came charging down the inside into the hairpin and almost T-boned Seb. I don’t think there was any similarity between those two. I haven’t had a look at the one from China yet, but my recollection of that incident was that it was a very clear case of causing a collision. I think what Sebastian was doing was a genuine attempt to overtake, and I think what Max was doing in China was opportunistic at best.”
Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso’s time penalties
Two other drivers came to blows at the end of lap one, with Lance Stroll nudging Fernando Alonso off the race track on the approach to the final chicane. Alonso was forced to go straight on but, instead of re-joining the circuit using the sliproad, he drove straight across the gravel trap, gaining a position over Stroll in the first place. Both got a five-second penalty — Stroll for causing the incident, Alonso for gaining an advantage when he re-joined — and points on their superlicence.
“I think the stewards felt it was perfectly clear what Fernando did. He cut the chicane, drove quickly across the gravel, came back on well in front. I think that was pretty clear that he had gained an advantage by leaving the track.
“The stewards however felt that Stroll had actually forced Fernando off. You couldn’t say that because Fernando was forced off, he was entitled to cut the chicane. He wasn’t. He shouldn’t have taken the place by doing it, but equally, Stroll shouldn’t have pushed him off the track. They felt that each driver should be given a five-second penalty for two separate offences.”
Alonso was furious with the decision, saying it showed “how bad Formula One is”, but Whiting said he could have easily avoided it.
“If he’d had given back the position, I don’t think Fernando would have been penalised. That would have been straightforward. I think the second time he did it, he did give the place back to Brendon Hartley, but he didn’t on that occasion.”
Magnussen escapes punishment for Leclerc clash
Charles Leclerc was furious with Kevin Magnussen during the race in Suzuka — saying the Dane “is and will always be stupid” — after the Haas driver appeared to move across to block his overtaking attempt very late as they came down the main straight. However, Whiting said Magnussen’s move across actually happened in very close proximity to the moment Leclerc committed to the right-hand side.
“It was quite an interesting one actually. It was in two bits as you know, on the straight and then in the corner. He got the puncture in the first one.
“If you analyse it very, very carefully, what you see is two cars coming down with Kevin not moving, and then Charles catches, catches, catches, he decides to go to the right, and at exactly the same time, on the video, one frame, there’s one frame difference, then Kevin moves.
“I think it’s impossible to say that Kevin blocked him, it was just he made the decision that he was going to go right, fractionally after Charles had. You had to look at it quite a few times and analyse it in little detail to see that, but I think that it’s just unfortunate, and that’s what the stewards felt.”