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After an enthralling Belgian Grand Prix, the F1 circus goes back-to-back with the Italian Grand Prix this weekend. There will be a couple story lines going into the weekend. For starters, the championship battle between Mercedes team-mates, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg is simmering nicely with only nine points between them. It’s all to play for between the two of them and I’m looking forward to see who will come out on top – because at this point, it’s really too close to call. With Monza being a high-speed track (horse power dependent), it should suit Mercedes well, with perhaps Ferrari challenging them the hardest.
The other story line that came up at Spa, which will reverberate into this weekend, is on Max Verstappen’s driving standards. We have already seen the Red Bull driver come in for some criticism for moving lines under breaking. However, at Spa, we actually saw him weave to block Raikkonen on the Kemmel straight at around 320kph.
My heart was in my mouth when I saw it, because it was only pure skill and reflexes on Raikkonen’s part that stopped them both having an accident on a momentous scale. Verstappen made his move to defend after Raikkonen had committed to the inside, which is simply too late and dangerous. In many championships around the world, they are starting to clamp down on these sort of reactionary moves – and this is one that the F1 needs to have a look at.
Martin Brundle said during the race that there is a code of conduct that the drivers know about, which says what is acceptable and what is not. Other team bosses also echoed that it was up to the drivers to sort it out. But you need to ask yourself where the drivers learn all this and the answer is usually through the many years of junior racing where race craft is honed. Silly moves like this are usually punished through accidents – albeit at speeds that are much lower than in Formula 1.
Max Verstappen has only had one year of car racing (Formula 3) before making the step up to F1, and more importantly, he hasn’t experienced any big accidents yet. A big shunt through a silly mistake usually reminds drivers that they aren’t driving a video game that can be reset. They become aware of repercussions and tend to then drive smarter.
Verstappen was unrepentant after the race, and why not? He had got away with it and kept his position. The stewards didn’t punish him and I can’t fault him for pushing the limits in a way reminiscent of Senna and Schumacher in days gone past.
However in F1 high-speed accidents in unexpected places can be very serious indeed. Verstappen needs to understand this. Other drivers having words with him will only go so far. He needs to know the consequences and since we can’t have other drives crashing into him to show him, it’s up to the FIA and FOM to put pressure on the young Dutchman. Formula One even raised the minimum age limit of future F1 drivers to make sure they came into the sport with enough racing experience, so this is a very relevant case for them moving forward.
Verstappen is the most exciting thing about F1 at the moment and I hope to see him in the sport for the next two decades at least. It’s down to the FIA to make sure this happens in as safe a manner as possible.
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