To the intrigue of a lot of F1 fans, a historically quiet Russian Grand Prix managed to produce a few key pieces of excitement in 2020.
With Mercedes failing to lock down the front row of the grid for only the second time this year, the fireworks started before the lights had even turned green. During a pre-race practice start, Hamilton attempted one outside of the designated area.
The shocking incident was properly put in context by the BBC.
“His actions contravened the requirements to do practice starts in the designated place,” Chief F1 writer Andrew Benson explained. “Not to stop in the fast lane of the pit lane, and not to use constant throttle and speed in the pit exit at this part of the pre-race procedure.”
For that infraction, Hamilton was initially docked championship points and hit with a 10-second penalty during the race. While the penalty points were rescinded, as they would’ve put Hamilton two away from a one-race ban, the time consequences stood. The delay cost Hamilton the race to his teammate, a very anti-emotional Valtteri Bottas.
Once the penalty was issued and the race was over, Hamliton’s team at Mercedes immediately grabbed their tinfoil hats and cried conspiracy. It was the second time in three races their lead driver broke the rules, and this time, they felt the punishment didn’t fit the crime.
“It is to be expected,” Hamliton said to BBC after the race. “They’re trying to stop me, aren’t they?”
When any team is at the front, they will be scrutinized more closely. The rules will be heavily reinforced for them more than most. That’s racing.
However, that old superstition hadn’t come through for Mercedes until recently. For the past three years, in fact, it seemed like Hamilton has been the luckiest driver in the paddock. He’s rarely gotten penalized or been forced to retire from races before 2020. In fact, Hamilton’s last DNF still remains the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix.
The consequences in this case were just; it was clear as day the team broke the rules. However, the reaction by the Mercedes team felt overblown. Their complaints always seem to follow the same general trend this year.
If we do it, it’s just racing, but when other teams do it, it’s cheating.
That kind of mentality has always been around in every sport. Take fans of the NFL’s New England Patriots, the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, the MLB’s New York Yankees and the NHL’s Boston Bruins. These dynasty-level organizations, each of whom have several championships to their credit, all seem to cry foul when their team is penalized for breaking the rules.
Well, racing has always been about pushing the gray area, and F1 is no different. For as long as the sport has been around, teams have found new and creative ways to push the boundaries in their quest for speed. Some might call it innovation… while officials will sometimes call it straight up cheating.
An example came earlier this season with the Dual-Axis Steering device Mercedes unveiled in Austria. It could’ve been straight up banned for this year, forcing the team to get rid of it and waste millions in research and development. (Fortunately for them, it wasn’t.)
These cheeky, rule-breaking innovations were what F1 was founded on. But the type of call F1 made during the Russian Grand Prix leaves no margin for error. Mercedes broke the rule both times and reacted like a surprised Pikachu when they were called out and penalized.
While some fans might believe that the FIA lifting Hamilton’s penalty points was another “conspiracy”, most F1 pundits believe it was also the right call.
A one-race ban would have been devastating for Hamilton, even if it stood to have little effect on his march to yet another championship. However, my hope is this call served as a wakeup to Mercedes. There will be no more special treatment because, frankly, there never was any. There was, and is, no conspiracy to hinder Lewis Hamilton as long as the team continues to follow the rules.
Mercedes, you were caught cheating. I just wish you’d own up to it.
Carlos Sainz Jr.
The other driver to go full brain fart this weekend was the McLaren of Carlos Sainz Jr. After his Tuscan Grand Prix lasted all of five laps, the Spaniard’s Russian Grand Prix lasted all of… two corners.
After experiencing what seemed like an overcorrection, Sainz tried to rejoin the track from the runoff area. In what can only be described as a major oof, Sainz plowed right into the barrier, destroying the left side of his McLaren.
For fans watching, it almost seemed like a wreck out of the F12020 video game, hitting the wrong button only to suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, unlike that virtual reality, real life has no rewind button.
Sainz himself was embarrassed by the incident.
“I ran a bit wide, and by the time I decided to go around the bollard, I went around the bollard with a very narrow angle,” Sainz said. “I misjudged my entry speed around the bollard and hit the wall pretty heavily.”
It’s been a rollercoaster ride for Sainz in the last three Grand Prix races. He’s gone from the highest of highs, sitting runner up on the podium in Italy, to the lowest of lows, retiring early from both Tuscany and Russia.
F1’s unluckiest driver can’t seem to catch on to some consistency. But alas, all hope isn’t lost. The next four races in Germany, Portugal, Emilia Romagna and Turkey are all wild cards in the F1 paddock, with barely anyone having experience at these tracks. Sainz could easily break through at any of them for a good result.
Finally, race winner Bottas needs to be mentioned as well. For a driver whose competitive drive has come under question from fans, it was refreshing to see F1’s seemingly new emotionless iceman cruise to a victory.
This season, Bottas hasn’t shown that he is a Mercedes-level talent, lacking serious pace with the fastest car on the grid. He has always played second fiddle to Hamilton ever since arriving to the organization in 2017. But for the Finn, a chance to win again at the track that gave him his first career victory was heartwarming to see.
Rumors have been swirling about Hamilton’s future with Mercedes. F1’s highest paid driver and reigning world champion still hasn’t signed with any team for 2021. Should Hamilton choose to leave, would it give Bottas a chance to finally chase a championship?
Possibly. And if Bottas continues the rest of the season driving like he did in both Austria and Russia, he may just overtake Max Verstappen in the standings and make a charge at second place.