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Verstappen cedes victory to Hamilton after controversial FIA decision


Hamilton, after his triumph in the Bahrain GP.REUTERS
The strange outcome should not hide the essential. And the essential thing is that Lewis Hamilton, with a weaker car, scored in Sakhir the first victory of a season that seems most exciting. He did it before Max Verstappen, the man he had dominated all weekend, the pilot destined to dethrone him. However, everything was cut short with four rounds to go, when Michael Masi, race director, forced Red Bull to give up the position, a few seconds after its driver had taken the lead. The disappointment on the face of Mad Max bore certain similarities to that of Fernando Alonso, who could not reach the goal due to a fault in the brakes. At least, Carlos Sainz saved an eighth place in his debut with Ferrari.

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“We have been warned since race control“, explic Christian Horner radio, when the disappointment had already been consummated, when his counterpart Toto Wolff raised his fists in the Mercedes garage, in a celebration that included the podium of Valtteri Bottas. Verstappen had to slow down because he had crossed the track limits at Turn 4, just passing Hamilton. Before the F1 microphones, the volcanic Dutchman kept a most prudent silence, quite rare for him. “It’s a shame, but you have to get the positive side. We managed to fight with them and added some good points,” he managed to stammer.

The consequences of Masi’s decision will linger over the next few weeks. Today it is difficult to accept that the duel that F1 dreams of will be resolved with such a bucket of ice water. Hamilton, who had made a flagrant mistake, found himself against the ropes. His young adversary had more speed and at Turn 4 he advanced around the outside, gaining an advantage beyond the piano. Just as Lewis had bought time on the spot with similar maneuvers. Thus a career with many incentives was resolved.

We did not even have to wait for the traffic light for the first shock, because the fatality of Sergio Prez, gagged all weekend, was reflected in an electrical fault during the training lap. Condemned to start from the pit-lane, the Mexican left more space for those who wanted to fight for privileged positions. The start, in the end, did not change much between the favorites, although they did unleash the safety car after the gaffe of Nikita mazepin, in the same area of ​​the horrifying accident of Romain Grosjean.

With so much nerves on the restart, it didn’t take long for the incidents to pile up. The most serious one left without a front wing Pierre Gasly, another of the animating theorists. Much more subtle was the contact between Sainz and Lance Stroll, vying for ninth position. The Canadian, at that time, was flying to also get rid of Alonso, the first to go through the pits, on lap 12, in search of the intermediate tires. Alpine’s bet paid off immediately, because with that undercut they won the position to Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo.

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Fernando must have enjoyed during those laps, gambling with Sainz and Sebastian Vettel. However, his car was losing gas in an obvious way, overwhelmed even by Kimi Raikkonen and Yuki Tsunoda. It did not even seem feasible to reach the points zone when after the second stop, his engineers detected a problem in the rear brakes that triggered his abandonment with 24 laps to go.

The goal also seemed a long way off for Sainz, with no possible defense against Prez’s Honda engine. While Charles Leclerc rolled fifth, in the wake of Lando Norris, Madrid had not much more incentive than the eighth position of Stroll. At the end of the straight, in a very fine maneuver, he achieved his goal. In that Turn 1, Vettel attacks Esteban Ocon in an obvious illegality punished with 10 seconds by the commissioners.

Ahead there was too much at stake in that strategic pulse, with which Wolff intended to attack the leader. Verstappen was tense, complaining of anomalies in his accelerator and in his rear end, without the rhythm of his long runs on Friday, when he led the Mercedes by two tenths per lap. The precarious situation of Prez, engrossed in his courageous comeback, left him outnumbered. So Hamilton went ahead with the hard rubbers to squeeze with them to the open grave. A turn later the Dutchman came in to mount the intermediate compound. The leadership changed hands.

It seemed the time for Mercedes, who was also rooting for Bottas for the attack. The second pit pass only confirmed what was taken for granted. A heads up between Hamilton and Verstappen with just seven laps to go. In that critical situation, the veteran came out graceful again. As stated in his protest shirt, with which he knelt again before the start, actions speak louder than words.

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