Verstappen's penalty call was right - but the track limits rule is all wrong
Well we know what everyone is going to remember the 2017 United States Grand Prix for. It’s great to see F1 doing their bit to make Grands Prix more exciting and I’m a big fan of Usain Bolt…
OK, not that then!
No, it’s going to be all about ‘that’ overtaking manoeuvre, but I’m going to leave my opinion till the end as there was actually a good amount of entertainment on the track – something the likes of Bill Clinton and Woody Harrelson seemed unaware of as we cut to shots of them enjoying the hospitality rather than watching the race!
First and foremost, we finally had the big six running at the front - until they became the famous five with Daniel Ricciardo’s retirement. Sebastian Vettel got a cheer for out-dragging Lewis Hamilton (and yes, he had four wheels off at the exit but F1 have consistently said they will be lenient at first corners) and then Daniel entertained us with some very late dive bombing on Valtteri Bottas, although he was unable to make the pass stick.
Kimi Raikkonen had made a tardy getaway but, once past Esteban Ocon, quickly caught the back of the Bottas/Ricciardo battle and, with the two up front going head to head, and Max Verstappen surging forwards at an amazing rate from his penalised grid position, it was shaping up nicely.
Unfortunately, Lewis dealt with Seb all too easily and the battle for third settled into a stalemate so it looked like we might have a boring race ahead of us.
Even the midfield boys seemed somewhat subdued although K-Mag was doing his usual best to entertain, colliding with one Sauber on the opening lap and the other at the same place much later on!
Finally, the two Pink Panthers got together and the fun started again.
Ocon was being delayed by Felipe Massa who hadn't pitted for tyres so Sergio Perez closed in and was immediately on the radio claiming he was faster! However, once Massa got out of the way Perez couldn’t keep with Ocon’s pace and we never heard another peep out of him.
Indeed, Perez was soon overtaken by the extremely impressive Carlos Sainz making his Renault debut and only just failing to wrest ‘best of the rest’ from Ocon. Briefly getting ahead using ‘that’ inside line but importantly not penalised because he was only ahead for about 100 yards and Ocon then held the place to the finish.
And so, to the other driver that used ‘that’ kerb!
Now, let’s make it clear I have always maintained that all track limit abuse should be penalised. If we want super safe, flat kerbs and acres of tarmac run-off we must have some sort of deterrent to ‘gaining an advantage’ by running off track.
Unfortunately, most of the time the powers that be in F1 seem to think running wide on the exit of most corners isn’t ‘gaining an advantage’ so they let it go, simply picking on one or two places where they randomly think it is and where drivers will lose their qualifying times or get warning flags in races if abused on a regular basis.
The most annoying situation for me is that if you are leading and brake impossibly late to stay ahead and then run off the road (think Canada for a perfect example) but re-join still in the lead apparently that isn’t ‘gaining an advantage’ - as long as you give back any time also gained. Well I’m sorry but the fact that you’ve gone way off track and still have four wheels on your car and you’re still leading is quite definitely ‘gaining an advantage’!
However, the only time the stewards have been consistent – and it was a much-tweeted word on Sunday night – is that should you go four wheels off completing an overtaking manoeuvre you will be forced to give that place back or receive a time penalty after the race to do that job for you – unless it’s deemed that you were forced off the road by the other driver.
Sadly, for all the fans that meant Max simply had to be penalised. A shot out of the back of Raikonnen’s car shows that Max wasn’t forced to go there and he was indeed way inside the corner, inarguably ‘gaining an advantage’.
It was a brilliant drive but it was the correct call.
How to stop it happening again? Well I’d put bigger kerbs on every apex and a wide strip of slippery surface between the track and the tarmac run-off.
The wet FP1 was a perfect example of how it should be with several cars spinning as they ran onto the now slippery kerbs. It’s amazing how drivers seem to stay within the track limits when it’s wet because they know they won’t ‘gain an advantage’ by running wide...
What do you think? Did Verstappen deserve his penalty? Have your say in the comments below - and don't forget to join me for a video 'Ask Me Anything', live on DriveTribe at 1pm BST on Tuesday, right here.