Eh, well what exactly happened there, then?!
The only thing that turned out as predicted at the penultimate race of the year was that it was a safety car interrupted drama fest.
There were so many points of controversy that it’s hard to remember all of them let alone form a considered opinion but, one way or the other, the neutrals are getting what they wanted: the top two drivers are heading to a final race shoot out level on points. Given the year we’ve had, that’s exactly as it should be.
It has to be said that both drivers made mistakes, something that is almost inevitable given the intensity of the battle, how fine the margins are between the leading drivers and the nature of a race track with tight, narrow turns and unyielding walls.
What was remarkable was that both drivers finished and the ability of modern F1 cars – adorned with a bewildering array of apparently fragile aerodynamic appendages – to absorb punishment is impressive.
Did Verstappen brake test Hamilton? Surely not. I find it hard to believe that he deliberately caused a crash on the straight. That’s a high risk strategy even for a driver carrying an eight point advantage who knows his leading rivals desperately needs to score. The telemetry surely doesn’t lie regardless of how Lewis Hamilton might feel.
The idea that either, or both, of the drivers, were trying not to be in the lead as they approached the DRS detection line in order to carry greater speed down the following straight is, however, a fascinating theory and only the drivers themselves know for sure.
Hamilton protested that he was confused about what was going on and his comments afterwards told us what we know already: he believes Verstappen breaks the rules with his driving behaviour.
Whether you agree with him or not, it’s clear that the Dutchman is unwilling to yield in a one-on-one situation. That surely gives Verstappen an edge whether he deserves it or not.
As for the move where Verstappen gained a five-second penalty, the stewards’ decision was a little frustrating but at least it was entirely consistent with recent decrees and certainly more clear cut than the controversial moment between the two at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
There was so much that was memorable about the event. Verstappen’s pass down the inside at the second restart would deserve to win a race any other day. Hamilton’s pole lap on Saturday and Verstappen’s final corner trip were also remarkable in what has been a season of incident.
Hamilton laying off the back of Verstappen on the formation lap to the first restart was also a piece of gamesmanship that might have attracted official opprobrium had there been time to consider it before the next moment of drama.
Earlier Valtteri Bottas’s easing up behind the safety car the first time round was also a piece of gamesmanship which might well have gained further attention had it not been negated by Verstappen winning back the initiative by being able to take track position and a free tyre stop under red flag conditions.
Heading to Abu Dhabi in a week’s time, Hamilton is coming off a sequence of three wins but there’s little to choose between them. Even if Hamilton won from pole position he knows that Verstappen had the faster car on Saturday and led the most laps on Sunday and, of course, has one more win this season.
Let’s all hope we don’t have a situation where the championship protagonists clash on track and neither finishes. That’s no way to win a title.
The pressure on the teams – as evidenced by Toto Wolff’s headset throw in the garage – is at fever pitch. Keeping a cool head and finding a way to take the right risk at the right time, both in terms of set up and strategy as well as in on track behavious, will be critical.
The only thing is certain is the championship will be hard won and we’ll be talking about it for a long time to come. Bring it on.