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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

F1 analysis: Max Verstappen right to feel aggrieved over penalty at United States Grand Prix

Dutch driver thrilled the crowd with his drive from 16th to third only for his place on the podium to be taken away by race stewards.

Max Verstappen produced the drive of the day at the United States Grand Prix but his podium place was taken away by a five-second penalty. Tony Gutierrez / AP Photo
Max Verstappen produced the drive of the day at the United States Grand Prix but his podium place was taken away by a five-second penalty. Tony Gutierrez / AP Photo

There was considerable consternation post-race at the United States Grand Prix on Sunday when Max Verstappen was penalised for overtaking Kimi Raikkonen on the final lap to take third place.

The Dutch teenager was given a five-second penalty added to his race time, adjudged to have had all four wheels of his Red Bull Racing car off the track for a brief moment as he dived down the inside of the Ferrari driver at Turn 17.

It was a marginal call. The Red Bull did go off the track fractionally, but it was debatable how much help it gave him to complete a move in which he had caught Raikkonen out.

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Certainly Raikkonen was not running to the stewards himself to protest the move.

β€œI have no idea what happened to him apart from he got past me at the second-last corner,” Raikkonen said in the post-race news conference, though he had not seen a replay at the time.

The pity is it marred an exciting end to the race and another superb drive by Verstappen, who had started 16th and had charged through the field to challenge for the podium.

The cheers at the Circuit of the Americas track could be heard over the cars, with the crowd appreciating the thrills Verstappen had brought to an otherwise predictable race that saw Lewis Hamilton claim his ninth win of the season to move within touching distance of a fourth world title.

Verstappen would have won a lot of new fans with his stirring drive, but the fact he was penalised after the chequered flag had been waved tarnished the only real excitement of the race.

It is always anticlimactic when a result is altered after the event is over.

Racegoers saw Verstappen finish third, yet it was Raikkonen, after another forgettable performance, who stood on the bottom step of the podium alongside Hamilton and Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel.

This is not an argument against stewards getting involved when action is warranted, but this call was extremely debatable.

Even after multiple replays, it is hard to argue if those extra few millimetres had made all the difference to Verstappen.

If that is the case then the benefit of the doubt should have stayed with the Red Bull man. This was not obvious corner cutting, which is what the rules are there to prevent.

After past years when penalties were being issued seemingly anytime there was contact on track, the stewards have been more liberal this season, and allowed more incidents to go unpunished to encourage better racing.

Which makes the decision to penalise Verstappen all the more surprising.

In the grand scheme of things it will not upset Verstappen too much. He has admitted in the past that he is only interested in winning races and championships.

Nevertheless F1 needs to be careful that these instances don't happen again.

Imagine if it had been Hamilton and Vettel in those positions, and a call that tight was made that could potentially define the destiny of the championship.

Luckily for the stewards, given the backlash they faced from the paddock in Austin, it was only for third spot.

As F1 moves to Mexico next weekend and the likely coronation of Hamilton as champion, F1 needs to reevaluate just how heavy handed they want their stewards to be.

Sunday saw some great racing spoilt by decisions off the track, and it is not something F1 should want to become a regular occurrence.