CAROL’S CORNER: You only get one life, it shouldn’t be risked for F1

© LAT Images for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd

By Carol M. Creasey

The race track at Jeddah was a new one for everyone, so there would be a steep learning curve to master it. After his back to back wins in Brazil and Qatar, Sir Lewis Hamilton could not wait to get back in the car and race on the new track.

On Friday he topped both practice sessions, and although Max Verstappen was second to him in the first one by one tenth, by the afternoon he had slipped down to fourth, with Valtteri Bottas now within a tenth of the Briton. The second practice was red flagged five minutes before the end, when Leclerc hit the barrier. His car was badly damaged, but luckily he climbed out unhurt.

By the time Saturday Qualifying took place, the one lap pace advantage had switched back to Red Bull. Lewis complained about a lack of grip on the soft tyres, whereas Verstappen looked comfortable on his. During Q3 Lewis posted a provisional pole lap, but as the session was ending, Verstappen went out again, his car was kissing the walls as he tried to put in a mighty lap, and if he had succeeded, it would have been at least 3 tenths faster. But right on the last corner, he ran into the wall, which gave Lewis pole position and Valtteri P2. The Dutchman would then start from 3rd.

Before the race an F2 race had been held, and news soon filtered through that there had been accidents, and two drivers had been taken to hospital. Being a new track, it was an unknown, and I am sure that many people felt like me: regardless of who would win, I just wanted all the drivers to be safe. I am so grateful to these brave young men who risk their lives every time they get in the car to give us the pleasure of watching them. Safety has to be paramount, and thank goodness safety has improved over the years.

The start of the race was without incident. Both Lewis and Valtteri made good starts and led away from Verstappen. Then the Safety Car was deployed when Mick Schumacher spun and hit Turn 23 barriers. Both Mercedes drivers pitted for a tyre change, and Verstappen inherited the lead. Race Director Michael Masi then decided to red flag the race, as he thought the walls needed repairing. This gave Verstappen a free pitstop and he kept his race lead. On Lap 15 Lewis led after a standing start, then Verstappen went wide and off track at the first chicane. He then cut across Lewis’ path, and he had to drop to P3 behind Esteban Ocon. In the meantime, in a separate incident Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc came to grief, and Nikita Mazepin collided with George Russell, so there was another red flag.

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Masi gave Red Bull the opportunity of dropping Verstappen behind Lewis for another standing start, because of an illegal move, rather than refer the matter to the stewards. Horner finally agreed to that, and at the restart, Verstappen brought his brand new medium tyres into play by passing both Hamilton and Ocon inside of the chicane. The Briton was impeded by Ocon initially, but then passed him a lap later.

Between Lap 28 and 36, there were 3 Virtual Safety Car periods, after which the Briton was in DRS range of the Dutchman, so he attempted a move  on the main straight. However, Verstappen braked far too late, running wide at Turn 2, and retained the lead. He then received instructions to hand the lead back. Finally on Lap 37 he conceded, slowing right down, which caught Lewis off guard, and he clipped his rival’s rear, sustaining front right wing damage. Later telemetry was to prove Verstappen had brake tested him, and the Dutchman received a further ten second penalty, and more points on his licence.

This move did not deter the Briton, he looked to get past Verstappen on Lap 42, but Verstappen pushed him wide, and carried on. By then the stewards decided to impose a 5 second penalty on Verstappen. Lewis took the lead on Lap 43, and then put in a fastest lap of the race. He won the race by 10 seconds, and Bottas was a fine third, overtaking Ocon just before the chequered flag.

I have read a lot of angry and negative comments about Verstappen’s unsportsmanlike behaviour online, and I am not going to jump on the bandwagon just because I am a Lewis fan, but I would like to point out a few things.

Firstly, back in 2016, Lewis and his then team-mate Nico Rosberg took each other out of the Spanish Grand Prix, and Toto Wolff was naturally furious to have two wrecked cars. They were both threatened with losing their drive if it ever happened again. And he absolutely did the right thing. But Red Bull bosses Christian Horner and Helmut Marko, and even Max’s father Jos seem to condone all his erratic and dangerous moves, so he has no role model to give him proper guidance and advise him to attack and defend safely. Surely it is up to the team principal to keep his driver in check, and tell him when he has done wrong?

Another point is, at the beginning of the year, Red Bull was so dominant, Mercedes could only look on whilst they crept up to 32 points ahead. But after being defeated, each time, Lewis publicly congratulated Max, and joined in the podium celebrations. Yet on this occasion Max left the podium, so maybe his father or his team manager should have insisted he stay there and act in a sportsman like way. But they seem to be weak in that regard, and I blame them for not giving him an example of how he should behave.

Mercedes have been on the back foot for most of the year because of the regulations changing, but they have not griped, they have worked hard to understand their car. This is why Lewis is winning again, not because of upgrades, or because he has suddenly woken up, he has fought all season and stayed in touch.

Winning the championship is not the-be all of everything, but staying safe is. Lewis proved he is a clean and honourable driver, and the stress that was heaped on him to stay in the race was obvious when he got out of the car and hid his face in his hands. I am praying that the last race at Abu Dhabi will be won in the right way without any desperate and dangerous moves, because you only get one life, and it shouldn’t be risked for sports.

I know if Lewis loses he will congratulate Verstappen, and he will come back and take him on again next year. And if he wins, he will become the first man in history to win eight Formula 1 world championships. I am wishing them both to stay safe next weekend, and let us all enjoy a clean race.

Be sure to follow Carol on Twitter @eagertogo and visit her website!

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