Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

Verstappen preferred to take a penalty than allow Hamilton through into lead

2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen told his Red Bull team they should have let him take a penalty for passing Lewis Hamilton with all four wheels off the track.

The Red Bull driver described losing victory in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix to Hamilton as a ‘shame’ after he pulled over to let the Mercedes by.

Verstappen, who had dominated the opening weekend of the season until the race began, claimed second place, seven-tenths of a second behind Hamilton.

Verstappen had passed Hamilton for the lead with a handful of laps remaining, but race director Michael Masi ordered Red Bull to relinquish the lead back to Mercedes after deeming Verstappen’s pass to have taken place beyond track limits at turn four.

However, he told the team they should have let him stay in the lead, believing he could have drawn more than five seconds ahead of the Mercedes, allowing him to overcome any likely penalty.

“Why couldn’t you just let me go?” Verstappen asked his team over radio after taking the chequered flag. “I could’ve easily pulled the five seconds. I prefer we lose a win like that than be second like this.”

In response, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner explained the team had been given no option by race control.

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“We had the instruction from race control unfortunately, Max,” said Horner over Verstappen’s radio channel. “But that was a hell of a drive you put on there.”

Speaking after the race, Verstappen said the team could still take positives from their performance.

“It’s of course a shame, but also you have to see the positives,” said Verstappen. “We were really bringing the fight to them and I think that’s great to start the year like that.”

Early in the race, Verstappen was vocal with complaints of a “strange sensation” under throttle, something his Mercedes rivals diagnosed to be a differential problem.

“I don’t know what happened there,” said Verstappen.

“I don’t think it was completely solved the whole race in the low speed corners. So we’ll have at look at that. Overall we managed to finish the race, of course and score good points.”

Verstappen’s new team mate, Sergio Perez, finished in fifth place for Red Bull after starting the race from the pit lane.

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2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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71 comments on “Verstappen preferred to take a penalty than allow Hamilton through into lead”

  1. Verstappen handled the racewin to Hamilton as there was few laps left and he did so in a place where Hamilton could open the gap in following corners.

    Massive sportsmanship by Max today. Hats off!

    Some drivers would have lift off later in order to repass quickly, others would have taken the 5-second time penalty and try to open the gap while in front.

    Brillant win by Hamilton, respect to Verstappen on this one.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      28th March 2021, 18:56

      Verstappen did what he was instructed. Don’t see how it was massive sportsmanship. He then would rather break the sports rules and get a penalty than follow the team’s advice to avoid this happening. I would descrive that as pretty bad sportsmanship. Anyhow, Verstappen still had a great drive.

      1. @thegianthogweed So, pretty bad sportsmanship, for something that didn’t happen. I couldn’t agree more?

        1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
          28th March 2021, 19:57

          I’m more saying that it is clear he won’t have much in the way of it with an attitude like that if he actually wants to break the rules….

      2. I do think there was some room for Max to do this at a somewhat better place to avoid Hamilton being able to build a relatively solid gap @thegianthogweed. I do agree that this was not something outstandingly sportmanslike, since it was a clear infringement and they were told to do so, that was not Max’ choice @jeff1s.

      3. Ves was instructed to give the nr1 position back to Ham. The sportsmanship lay’s in the way were he did it. He could have waited for a more favorabel spot, he didn’t.

    2. to be fair, max handed him the win when he overtook outside of track limits. he had more time. there are 3 drs zones at this track. hes a raging bull though, he doesn’t want to stick around behind a car – but he also didnt lose because he followed instructions. he lost when he went off track.

    3. Like being suspected of being fouled by a goalkeeper but admitting you dived/tripped.

    4. Verstappen handled the racewin to Hamilton as there was few laps left and he did so in a place where Hamilton could open the gap in following corners.

      Verstappen is a finisher, he smells blood in those racing situations. You could argue that it could have worked with him if he would have waited few corners and made a highway DRS pass but it could haven’t worked as well. Bottas was using a similar tactic against Vettel in the 2018 Bahrain GP waiting to pass him on the straight but he lost the victory despite the massive pace advantage.

      1. He panicked! Like a kid! What the hell were you watching! He had three laps left and choked- plain and simple. He will be messed up for the WHOLE season because of this. Perez will beat him in the Drivers championship. Say goodbye to boy wonder.

  2. Verstappen didn’t lose the win handing back the position but having an odd traction at the next turn making him lose precious ground. Anyway, it shows he needs to raise a bit his mental game to beat Mercedes and Hamilton. Pulling the capital move in such a troubled turn was meant to be win or bust since he started the pursuit. He needs to be cold to a degree he picks the exact point where he will make the move in such a tight battle. We’ve seen it with Emerson, Nelson, Alain… It is possible.

    Regardless, he did a solid job today. I’m keen to see how this fight will unfold with the basketcase Bottas and an improving Perez.

    1. This was hardly a “mental error” or anything to do with inexperience. There are two overtaking oppertunities on this track, into turn 1 and exactly this point where Max made the overtake. He had it done, but Lewis managed to hang in there and Max had to go wide to avoid a collision, all of this was perfectly normal and it made sense to go for an overtake when he had the opportunity. With hindsight knowing it didn’t stick you can say “well he should’ve waited” but who knows if he would’ve had an opportunity.

      Besides, Lewis messed up a corner and ran wide just a few laps before that, does that mean he also needs to raise his “mental game?”

      I don’t think either driver’s mental game needs any work. They were evenly paced, on different stategies and both of them fought tooth and nail to win this race, with Lewis having just the edge based on his strategy and track position so well played to him and his team. Neither man has any reason to regret their performance today, imo.

      1. @aiii – By all means, I don’t see it as a mental error. My point is, being poised to be one of the greats, his race awareness should raise so he can beat one of them. Hamilton, for one of his contemporaries, did it to beat Vettel in the long game.

        With a car good enough he will face different challenges, so he must be prepared to do differently if necessary. T4 all weekend was a risk, from Q to R. If he had 1 shot to win, he’d better pick the safest spot to make it stick.

        Now, I’m not saying this to bash him or any of the sort. But I definitely think he should think about that on a mental debriefing, because those situations are likely to repeat throughout the season.

        As for Lewis, I gotta be cheeky to say he’ll be fine: the only driver that cracks under pressure made his mark today.

        1. No- its bot a mental error? Right! Because he had a slower car right? Opps- Nope. Max had the faster car. Oh – wait- maybe his tires were older? Oops– Nope. Max had TEN LAPS NEWER TIRES. Oh- it must have been track position issue then? Oops- Nope. There was no traffic issues.

          Max Verstappen panicked – he picked the wrong spot with many laps left (3.5 and 10 drs zones). This is the definiton of a mental error because there were NO other factors other than the choice that Max “premature” VerStoppen made on the track in Bahrain. He had the superior car and was still driving like a kid that has to take chances to win. Macie ate an apple and he choked . . .

  3. I suppose it is kind of weird that for most of the race the Mercs were going wide there with no apparent problem so Red Bull told Verstappen to follow suit – and then it became a problem. In a lot of ways I didn’t see an issue with the pass – it wasn’t significantly different to Verstappen’s pass on Leclerc in Austria – I forget the exact year. I can’t say I like the idea of Masi ordering Red Bull to relinquish the lead though.

    1. @rocketpanda The pass in Austria was completely different. Verstappen was on-track during that overtake. Sure it was debatable, since he clearly shoved Leclerc off track on purpose at the second attempt, but still he himself was on track.

      This was more like the overtake during the USA 2017 race on Raikkonen.

    2. @rocketpanda The drivers were specifically told before the race that if they used the area off-track at turn 4 to pass a rival, they’d have to give it back. If Horner is backing giving the place back, you can bet there’s no space for contention about it.

    3. RB told Max to start using the exit at tuurn 4 NOT because there was much to be gained by doing so but more of a “look Stewards! Mercedes are running wide at the exit of turn 4”. EVERYONE was then advised this would not be allowed. Everyone then complied, except Max during his overtake of Lewis. The FIA/stewards were flaky about track limits all weekend. They were allowing it all weekend then changed their minds mid race. If RB hadn’t have shouted so loudly about Merc doing it they would probably have been ok with the overtake. Karma?

  4. Masi stated in the second version of event notes that the race wouldn’t have TL enforcement. LH still got a warning, and MV had to concede the lead. Contradictory and inconsistency stroke again.

    1. @jerejj Well he also warned that the drivers are not allowed to use the off track areas as part of the race track on purpose. But agreed, it feels weird when Masi says they won’t enforce track limits and then does. He could have phrased it better.

      Having to give back the position when overtaking off track has pretty much always been the case. Well Verstappen won an “overtake of the year” for an off track overtake, but normally off track overtakes get penalized (unless reversed).

      1. @f1osaurus His pass on Nasr didn’t happen while he was off-track.

        1. @jerejj Verstappen was fully off track leading up to that pass. Granted, the actual pass was just Nasr letting Verstappen go at the bus stop since Nasr was going for a pitstop on his worn tyres anyway.

          Still, the claim is that he passed Nasr at Blanchimont and he did go fully off track there.

          Just to add, the white line is the track limit. So just touching a bit of kerb is not enough.

      2. Well, as Toto pointed out slyly about the inconsistency in suddenly enforcing the Turn 4 TL, it was Horner who publicly forced Masi to begin enforcing it by instructing Max to “disregard the TL because Hamilton was, so RB should do the same.” Pure greed. Max had a faster car and he owned the race. Masi rightfully stuck it to RB for setting up an unnecessary advantage for RB by whining, in so many words. Horner is famous for this. Hoisted by their own petard? Sweet! Go Hamilton!

        1. @mustang Heh yeah that is always sweet. Just like when Horner was the one calling for an engine mode ban and then exactly when the ban is enforced Verstappen’s engine keeps breaking down.

        2. I thought the F1 rules book should publicly force Masi enforce the rules!! So, if your opinion is that somehow RBR/Horner is at fault, then my opinion is that FIA is helping Mercedes.

          1. Max ran wide on the second to last corner at least twice in the last 4 laps. So as the FIA is helping Mercedes, why wasn’t Max punished?
            Unless Masi thought; rightly, that Max was never gonna pass Ham.

          2. Given that the order to respect track limits at corner 4 was given well before Vertappens overtake. I find it hard to see how race control predicted that Verstappen was going to go of track to overtake Hamilton many laps later…

            Now if you are going to mention how Hamilton was punished for locking up and leaving the track at spa in 2008 then that was a perfect example of using non-existent rules to manipulate a championship. This (despite bizarre mid race rule change) was not that…

          3. Your opinion is forged by others opinions? Cant you think for yourself?

    2. There’s nothing inconsistent nor contradictory about having to give back a place gained by going off-track. Every. Single. Time.

  5. Very unsporting that he’d rather cheat than win fairly.

    Plus poor insight. He wouldn’t have pulled a 5s lead.

    1. @f1osaurus he did it once, in mexico i think? he got very heated on and off track arguments with vettel.

      1. @mysticus How is that relevant? How much faster was he? Maybe half a second. How much laps did he have, five left. So …

        1. @f1osaurus you misunderstood my comment, i said that to imply behaving this way put him in hot water, and caused a lot of headaches for other drivers and Race Director as well… it is best noone behave like that unsportsmanlike….

          1. @mysticus Ah sorry, true he did that before. He has shown quite a lot of bad sportsmanship over the years. All those dirty blocking moves for instance. I thought it had gotten better, but I guess it’s still in his nature.

          2. @f1osaurus
            i hope as part of maturity, he understands winning at all costs is not what sports is about. but given the chance, he would still ignore the warning, and take the penalty as he implied worries me… he is already plenty childish at times, but shows good improvement into maturity too.. hope we see good battles rather than table won wars by controversial decisions…

          3. @mysticus Yeah I doubt it too.

            The way he pushed that pie into David Coulthard’s face looked truly cringeworthy as well.

    2. Why not, @f1osaurus? Aren’t you the one regurgitating that Red Bull is clearly faster?


      1. @niefer He wasn’t faster by a second per lap

        Check mate

        1. @f1osaurus – So you reckon their pace was marginal then, or gonna keep the blunder?

          1. @niefer Do you do math? 6 seconds gap closed in 10 laps. How much is that on average per lap? So how many laps did Verstappen have? And how much of a gap would that have been at that pace difference? And even that was unlikely since he damaged his tyres already.

            It’s really not that hard if you actually think things through for a few seconds.

          2. @f1osaurus – it has nothing to do with math, it has to do with narrative. The gap you saw closing was because of tyre difference, otherwise, VER would have pulled away in the beginning, and HAM wouldn’t had a better stint mid race. Drop posing as intelligent, man. But most importantly, drop that lying narrative to make an already good driver look good.

          3. @niefer Well, Verstappen was 4 tenths faster on equal tyres. He was faster all weekend. Just not when it mattered. So the “narrative” is also ironclad.

            Either way, the point you contested was when i said that he would not be able to pull that 5 second gap in 5 laps when only gaining 6 tenths per lap.

            So still Check Mate. Now on two matches.

            Keep giving me those easy balls man. I’ll be knocking them out of the park all day.

          4. @f1osaurus – When was that exactly, for how many laps and, most importantly, what was the lifespan of both sets?

            Look, it’s fairly simple: an alleged superior car that can’t pull 1sec/lap low on fuel and with new tyres isn’t that faster.

            How can Lewis “Flintstone” defeat a clearly faster car that can’t pull a big enough gap to win? I’ll tell you how: cars are about the same.

            You simply can’t build checkmate with such inconsistencies and blunders. In your court game, you’re knocking the entire board out of the park after trying to move the ball.

          5. @niefer What ball did I move?

            I said “He wouldn’t have pulled a 5s lead.”

            He would not have.

            Still Check mate. Unfortunately you are to dumb to comprehend even that single fact.

          6. @f1osaurus – You call me that but can’t comprehend analogy? Let me try a different but simpler one: foul ball.

            Also, you didn’t present any evidence Red Bull was clearly faster lapping 4 tenths faster in the same tyres. You preferred to insult instead. Typical.

            A waste of time, as always. Now I got bored.

          7. @niefer

            you didn’t present any evidence Red Bull was clearly faster lapping 4 tenths faster in the same tyres.

            Yeah I assume you actually watched qualifying.

            You are indeed a waste of time. Why do you bother posting here if you don’t even watch qualifying and don’t understand even the basics of F1?

    3. Well, that’s one way to look at it. I like drivers that want to win. If finishing first and then dealing with race control is an option within the regulations it’s something to consider. And I am then not surprised that think the one chasing first place all weekend would lean towards this option. That’s what he is here to do. So hats off for co-op play with the team against his instinct.

      1. @Mayrton
        “Well, that’s one way to look at it. I like drivers that want to win.” well thats not what sports about. He was one of the dirtiest drivers in terms of defensive driving, but take it up a notch, and do it on the offense too, what is left really? might as well play online games where idiots play like bumper cars or cutting the whole field to get an advantage because they cant think of strategies or observe drivers ahead… His defensive tactics in the past became so bad, everyone in the field got a taste of it, and complained… They made a rule in his name. You dont want people cutting chicanes to end up miles ahead and cover 5 secs to benefit even with a penalty. penalty should be discouraging enough so people dont even entertain the thought of it! not encouraged by it!

    4. @f1osaurus That wouldn’t be cheating, it would simply be a professional foul. If you take it, you know what the consequences are and accept it.

      In F1, if exploiting a rule was considered bad sportsmanship, there would be no good sportsmen at all. Rather, I think it’s a bad loophole in the rules that needs to be closed.

      1. @markzastrow Oh come on knowingly breaking the rules is not cheating? Pffft

        1. @f1osaurus If you think every footballer who fouls an opponent to save a breakaway goal is cheating, then I won’t argue with you.

    5. It is never a cheat untill you get a penalty from it. ( DAS system Mercedes ) that is the reason why Max said not to give up the position. let the race control decide what happens after the race. Its always easier too lose a position in race then after a race. After the race RBR and Mercedes could debate on the turn 4 rules, which they both break and have cheated. Let race contol decide then, now you just gave away your victory, while the race was still going on. that is only a losers tactic.

  6. I think this shows the problem with the 5 second penalty rule.

    Given the choice between breaking the rules and taking a penalty or obeying the rules, a driver should always choose to obey the rules without a seconds hesitation.

    A far better rule in situations like this would be to wait until after the race and immediately apply a penalty to Verstappen to put him second to Hamilton. If he’s 5 seconds ahead, apply a 6 second penalty. If he ends up 25 seconds ahead, apply a 26 second penalty.

    I’ve seen penalties like this in BTCC – a time penalty sufficient to artificially decide positions so a driver will always be in a worse position if he decides to break the rules.

    1. @minnis i remember (and always will remember spa 08) one race ham gave the position back, and competitor crashed out on his own, yet ham was penalized i think 25 sec? to give the win to massa! that was the most disgusting penalty i ever seen in f1 as much as i remember…. worst part was the rule was first applied before it was officially recognized. rule got official after the race, after the penalty… rule was, after giving position back, you have to wait for 3 corners before another attack….

      nowadays, 5 secs, and see how these drivers think? let me take the penalty, and take all the points at all costs…

      1. i think, giving position back should be mandatory, and if not done within the same lap, black/white flag, if not done in the second lap, black flag and DSQ the driver… if this is last lap, then give like 10sec penalty, to discourage unfair/unsportsmanlike behaviour.

        1. @mysticus The stewards seem a lot more lenient these days. Hamilton also got a drive through penalty at Magny Cours. When he went off track after passing Vettel.

          But then 2008 was special, with a Ferrari consultant as the head steward calling all the penalties single handedly.

          1. @f1osaurus Back in 2008 the stewards had a lot less discretion about what penalties they could give out. It was either a drive through (25 seconds if awarded post-race) or a stop/go (35 seconds). The 5 and 10 second penalties were introduced a few years later.

          2. @red-andy back then, the penalty was not justified, was not in official rules either. it was as said unofficial drivers’ agreement! but penalty was issued regardless, and it was added to rules after the race! how blatantly disgusting could it get?

          3. He was already long past Vettel relatively before he went off track. We could say back then the Stewards were very creative on how much they could bend the rules to either make it not available or manufacture a new rule not yet in print.

    2. I was thinking the same thing. The most recent example of this type of penalty in the BTCC is Croft race 2 last year, when Matt Neal barged his way past Josh Cook and was given exactly the right time penalty to put him back into second place, not gaining a position from the overtake, but also not losing any more than the one he gained from the pass. Obviously this doesn’t work so well if the drivers affected are more than one place apart at the finish. Verstappen did the right thing by letting Hamilton back through.

      A similar example is Monaco 2017, when Wehrlein did something illegal (I think it was an unsafe pit release) that got him ahead of Button. He got a five second time penalty, but then Button was stuck behind him for around fifty laps before taking him out just before the tunnel. Really, Wehrlein should have been forced to let Button back through instead.

    3. I’d much prefer that approach to the current one. Provides a lot more incentive to immediately give back the position and carry on the battle.

    4. But that applies for Hamilton aswell, 3 times over turn 4, give Hamilton 5 seconds penalty, don’t wait untill Horner makes that public team call.

  7. the 5 second time penalty was never an option. race control issued the directive immediately. ignoring race control will result in a far worse penalty and license points. max was sensible not sporting

  8. The idea that a driver can in theory ‘cheat pass’ someone, then just trundle off and pull out the necessary gap, is something I really dislike about the standard five second penalty for that offence. So I’m glad race control got onto them straight away to prevent that happening.

    But I’d like to see the same attentiveness and prompt decision-making applied universally. Had it been, for example, Stroll passing Tsunoda for ninth, I doubt we’d have got a decision, instruction sent, instruction relayed and instruction followed in the space of six or seven corners.

  9. This is just manifestly wrong and something needs to be done about it. If drivers can just overtake off track and only get a 5s penalty then why bother having a tight battle in Monaco, just cut the chicane and scamper off into the lead 5s down the road.

    If you overtake another car off track then the penalty should be you are penalised whatever time would put you behind whoever you cheated, including DQ if they retired. If you don’t want that penalty then either let them have the place back or don’t overtake off track.

    I don’t blame Verstappen, the issue is poorly thought out rules.

  10. Hamilton was rather famously given a 25 second penalty at Spa 2008 for cutting a chicane, despite handing back the place. So five seconds for refusing to give it back would seem, well, a little mild.

  11. Well, passing off track is one of the few things that the FIA is fairly consistent about. And everybody knew before the race that it wasn’t allowed to use the wide exit at turn 4 to pass a car.
    So giving the position back was a or getting a penalty was a no brainer.

    But I didn’t like how they didn’t care about track limits there in the first place and when more and more driver startet doing it, they changed their mind. Without being wise after the event that was kinda predictable and you have to be consistent…

    1. Very well put.

  12. All this thing that happened today is a complete joke. FIA needs to amend all this track limits problems because it’s not consistent, and, at least for me, it makes everything look very artificial. Put some grass on the outside of the turns, please!

  13. Verstappen has shown twice that’s he’s willing to commit a professional foul in order to win. First was in the quali session in Mexico when bottas crashed and he deliberately ignored the yellow flags and improved his fastest time, stating afterwards that he wasn’t concerned, they could delete his time, because his banker was fast enough for pole. The fia didn’t like this and gave him a grid drop

    His attitude towards giving back the position to Hamilton hasn’t changed, he’s willing to commit a professional foul because he believes he knows what the punishment will be, ie a 5 second penalty. My feeling is that if he had pulled a 5 second gap the fia would have just given him a penalty that would have put him behind Hamilton. Say maybe 10s if that’s what was required. The fia do not want driver’s thinking they can dictate the races by anticipating what decisions the race director will make. If verstappen wants to win a title this year he might need to rethink how he approaches similar situations in the future

  14. It rather concerns me that Max would rather obtain a place by leaving the track and then build enough time for it to be offset by the penalty applied.

    To me, that’s the same as saying “I’m happy to cheat then build up enough buffer for the stewards to be irrelevant”

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