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DEATH-RISK DRIVING NOT PENALISED ENOUGH

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GRAND Prix champion Lewis Hamilton has got off far too lightly for unacceptably dangerous tactics, writes PETER COSTER:

LEWIS Hamilton may have finished first in the British Grand Prix on Sunday but it should be far from the finish of an investigation into how he won the race.

Championship leader Max Verstappen was on the racing line at the fastest corner at Silverstone when he was sent flying off the track by Hamilton at close to 300 km/h.

Copse might have been renamed Corpse. As it was Verstappen staggered from his destroyed Red Bull with the assistance of track marshals after an impact that registered at an incredible 51-G.

Think of one of the RAF fighter jets that overflew the Silverstone track diving into the ground.

Verstappen was taken by ambulance to the course medical centre and then to hospital where he was later released, apparently without injury.

The race was immediately red flagged as the wreck was removed and the tyre barrier rebuilt. 

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told race director Michael Masi in no uncertain terms that the accident, which could have killed his driver was entirely down to Hamilton.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was going to tell Masi it was all Verstappen’s fault but was running towards the media centre instead of race control when pit wall commentator Ted Kravitz told him that like his driver he was heading in the wrong direction.

Had he continued on to the media centre, Wolff might have got a more interesting reception from the journalists.

The stewards, who were to impose a 10-second penalty on Hamilton for a reckless move that could have caused Verstappen’s death were far more lenient than most of the correspondents who analysed the on-board camera footage.

The 10-second penalty was added to the time that was to be taken at the first pit stop after the incident. At the very least, it should could have been a 10-second stop-and-go penalty, which would have meant an effective penalty of  23 seconds instead of just adding the penalty to a scheduled stop to change tyres.

Red Bull F1 driver academy boss Helmut Marko went further, saying Hamilton should be suspended for a race.

HOW HE WON THE RACE

It has been described as “dirty driving”  by some commentators and a “hollow victory” by a coldly-furious Christian Horner.

Race director Masi has since pointed out that stewards can only consider an incident on what actually happened.

Not the consequences, such as Verstappen being sent to hospital or the loss of a possible 25 points had he won the race he was leading.

The points went to Hamilton who is now only eight points behind Verstappen instead of 40 points had he not disposed of his rival and run second to the Red Bull driver.

What has further infuriated Verstappen after the biggest shunt of his career is what he called the “disrespect” shown by Hamilton who climbed out off his Mercedes to run across the track to celebrate with the crowd after the race.

WHY IT HAPPENED

This is the crux of the issue. Verstappen was in front on the first lap after starting from pole, which was particularly galling for Hamilton who had set the fastest time by mere thousands of a second in qualifying on Friday.

But in a new format, driven by F1 owner Liberty F1’s focus on entertainment, a sprint race was added on Saturday, which meant Hamilton lost pole to Verstappen who got the better start.

Now you’ve got pole, now you haven’t.

The sprint race placing superseded the earlier quay placings. Hamilton was irritated and it showed when the real race started on Sunday and Verstappen took the lead.

Hamilton was faster than Verstappen on the straights, with the Mercedes wing set for less drag but slower on the corners. Coming up to Copse, Hamilton dummied to the left and then darted inside the Red Bull.

Verstappen was clearly ahead and had the racing line. Hamilton knew he would have to go wide to be able to take one of the fastest corners in F1.

In spite of later insisting he was alongside Verstappen, Hamilton was close to a car length behind the Red Bull when Verstappen started to turn in, as he was entitled to.

The proof of this was the point of impact between the two cars, which were both traveling at nearly 300km/h.

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Hamilton’s left-front wheel caught Verstappen’s right-rear wheel. The Dutchman’s Red Bull instantly flew off the track and crashed sideways into the tyre barrier with the Dutchman as a passenger.
The rebounding tyres and the incredible strength of the car’s carbon-fibre construction and six-point driver harness saved Verstappen’s life.

There are still deaths in F1, but in the 60s and 70s Verstappen would have been killed in cars that often broke up in a crash or flung the driver out.

But as race director Masi said, such a scenario was not part of the stewards’ investigation.

At Silverstone on Sunday, with the red mist descending Hamilton decided he would bluff Verstappen out of the corner.

The Red Bull driver, just as determined to maintain his line and clearly entitled to do so, expected Hamilton to pull back.

Hamilton, a seven-times world champion did not make a rookie’s mistake. He was trying to force Verstappen out of the corner and he repeated the move two laps from the finish when he drove up the inside of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari at the same corner, pushing him off the track.

Leclerc ran off the side of the circuit, no doubt believing that if he didn’t he would end up in the barriers like Verstappen.

Hamilton, who has won more Grands Prix than any driver in F1 history, has been racially vilified since the incident and while his abusers must be held accountable for their online abuse, Hamilton must also be held accountable for his on-track actions.

He should have been given a heavier penalty, at least a 10-second stop-go, which would have included the extra time it took to get in and out of the pits where there is a 60km/h speed limit.

Better still a significant grid-place penalty at the next race in Hungary or a full-race suspension as suggested by Helmut Marko.

That might have happened had it not been Lewis Hamilton, seven-times world champion and winner of 99 GPs who caused the crash

This older corespondent remembers the Japanese Grand Prix of 1989 at Suzuka when Ayrton Senna ran up the inside of his McLaren  teammate and championship rival Alain Prost.

Like Verstappen at Silverstone on Sunday, Prost had the racing line and turned in. Unlike Verstappen and Hamilton at Silverstone, both cars slid off the track and an unforgiving enmity was born.

It will be the same for Verstappen and Hamilton and their every move will be scrutinised by the stewards in the remaining races this season, as they should be.

Motor racing is dangerous is a warning to the  spectators. It also applies to the drivers, whose lives should not be put at risk by a moment’s madness.

The owners of F1 might excuse what happened at Silverstone as entertainment.

The FIA should censor future horror shows by adding a grid penalty to Hamilton in Hungary before there is blood on the tracks.

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Author: Peter Coster

PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games.

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