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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Max Verstappen's 'public service' for clash with Esteban Ocon could be a blessing in disguise

Red Bull Racing driver has been punished for his on - and off - track collision with Force India rival in Brazil

Max Verstappen let his anger spill over off the track and confronted Esteban Ocon after the Brazilian Grand Prix. Getty Images
Max Verstappen let his anger spill over off the track and confronted Esteban Ocon after the Brazilian Grand Prix. Getty Images

When news broke on Sunday evening that Max Verstappen had been ordered to do two days “public service” by the race stewards at the Brazilian Grand Prix after his clash, on and off the track, with Esteban Ocon, it was easy to let the mind wander.

Would the Red Bull Racing driver be armed with a broom and asked to sweep leaves outside the headquarters of the FIA, motorsport’s ruling body, in Paris?

Would he have to scrub graffiti off a wall near the Interlagos track at Sao Paulo? Perhaps grab a clipboard, take on driving instructor duties and judge the standard of three-point turns?

Fortunately for Verstappen, his public service will not involve anything quite like that.

It will almost certainly be similar to what Sebastian Vettel did in 2017 when, after driving into Lewis Hamilton behind the safety car, he took part in an educational role with the FIA junior formulas of motorsport.

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On that occasion, Vettel was tasked with speaking to the next generation about avoiding making the same mistake, and Verstappen can expect similar after his spot of road rage post-race in Brazil.

Verstappen was on track for his third win of 2018 on Sunday when he led at the start of Lap 44, but he spun down to second after contact with Force India’s Ocon, as the Frenchman tried to unlap himself.

An upset Verstappen, who went on to finish second behind world champion Lewis Hamilton, then confronted his rival immediately after the race, pushing him three times, before walking away.

The race stewards took a dim view of the incident, with Ocon having already been punished with a 10-second stop go pit penalty as the perceived guilty party for the collision.

What did not help Verstappen’s cause was that he had almost 40 minutes to calm down after the on-track clash with Ocon, yet still went looking for him as soon as he got out of the car.

Verstappen is not the first driver to be taken out by a backmarker, and he will not be the last. His frustration was understandable but arguably a lack of experience meant he could not control his temper. The Dutchman may be about to complete his fourth season in F1, but he is still only 21.

The public service is a win for all parties in many ways.

Verstappen was never going to be banned for the incident, although it is more to Ocon’s credit for not retaliating that the incident did not escalate beyond a couple of aggressive shoves.

Meanwhile, the FIA get one of the sport’s leading stars at their disposal for two days. His superstar status will inspire young racers, while also reminding them that road rage is bad and not to repeat his behaviour.

Verstappen may also get some time to reflect on his behaviour. Granted, he was the victim of the incident. Ocon, who was on fresh tyres, was entitled to try and unlap himself, with Verstappen going slightly slower as he looked to conserve his own tyres until the end of the race.

But Verstappen gave Ocon absolutely no room. He must have known he was there, yet presumed he was going to back off as he was a lap down.

That might have been a fair assumption to make, but as Hamilton, who was right behind the incident said, “you always leave room”.

Verstappen did not and that was a lesson learnt the hard way. There was no need to be that aggressive with Ocon, whether the Frenchman should have been there or not, and he lost the race because of it.

The pair later shook hands in the paddock to end the row, though it is likely to still be a talking point when they arrive in the UAE next week for the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 25.