Red Bull Went to Absurd Lengths to Get Lewis Hamilton In Trouble

·4 min read
Photo credit: Dan Istitene - Formula 1 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Dan Istitene - Formula 1 - Getty Images

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Two weekends ago, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton collided while battling side-by-side for the lead on the opening lap of the British Grand Prix. Verstappen careened into the outside wall, Hamilton was given a ten second penalty, and the issue was considered settled by the FIA and Formula 1. Red Bull did not agree.

Despite the time penalty, Hamilton went on to win the race, giving him 25 points in the driver's standings. With more than half of the F1 schedule left to run, Red Bull saw Verstappen's lead evaporate to a marginal eight points overnight and needed to make that gap back. Most teams would do so by simply winning three more races in which Hamilton finishes second, or two more in which Hamilton finishes worse than second. On the day the crash happened, Red Bull seemed to decide it would get it done by politicking their way into a Hamilton suspension alone.

The onslaught of campaigning was endless. Team advisor Helmut Marko called for a one-race suspension just after the ten second penalty was handed out, while the race itself was still happening. Verstappen himself took to Instagram afterwards to complain about the nature of the penalty, commenting that it "Does not help us in any way"—a fundamental misunderstanding of the goal of punitive action as a concept—and what he perceived as an unsportsmanlike celebration of a race win. But team principal Christian Horner did more than anyone.

On race day, he called Hamilton's driving "dirty". In that same quote, he claimed that Hamilton was being reckless to even attempt a pass at Silverstone's Copse corner; Hamilton would pass Charles Leclerc for the race win in the same corner 50 laps later. Last week, he told anyone that would listen that the crash had set Red Bull back about $1.8 million in cap-relevant spending. On Thursday, he finally got the FIA to hear a review of the case that involved a recreation of Hamilton's line filmed by test driver Alex Albon days later and comments that Mercedes seem to think implied a genuine belief that Hamilton caused the crash on purpose to gain an advantage.

The test run is particularly egregious. Formula 1 teams are greatly restricted in their on-track running of a current car in any form, but they can run an older car without incurring any test time or cost-cap penalty if they report it in advance. The older car in question was a 2019 RB15, filmed last Thursday just two days after Albon completed a tire test at Silverstone. The event was seemingly closed to the public and has so far produced just the simulated data for the review and a 90 second video for social media, implying that this genuinely was an entire day of on-track running in a Formula 1 car with a recent RBR driver conducted for the sole purpose of making an entirely unconvincing piece of evidence for a trial that was thrown out by the FIA almost immediately.

Verstappen and Marko's comments about safety are particularly questionable, too. The Dutch driver, who called Hamilton's celebration of a win while he was still being cleared from injuries in a nearby hospital "disrespectful and unsportsmanlike," was the lone driver on the F1 grid joking in public about Romain Grosjean's horrific crash at Bahrain last year. (He later said his comments were "misunderstood.") Marko, meanwhile, has a long track record of questionable interest in the lives of his Red Bull academy drivers best summarized by his suggestion that all of his drivers simply contract COVID in March of 2020 to gain a competitive advantage. Obviously, both have had a sudden change of heart when it comes to tactful and somber respect for the safety of the racing driver.

No matter what Red Bull threw at the wall, the result was the same. The FIA granted the team its final review of the penalty on Thursday, considered the new evidence for a few minutes, and quickly came down with a refusal to further penalize the seven-time world champion. Max Verstappen will need to re-build his championship lead on track, something he is more than capable of doing. If Verstappen wins or if Hamilton wins the 2021 driver's title by more than 25 points, we can forget this whole ugly chapter ever happened and move on with our lives.

After all, that's what Christian Horner has apparently done. After two straight weeks of campaigning for an increased penalty for what seemed to be the sole purpose of re-gaining a competitive advantage, Horner has accepted the final ruling and chosen to move on. So ends one of the most questionable uses of time and resources to gain an advantage in the history of a sport defined by using time and resources to gain an advantage.

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