It is astonishing how many twists and turns the 2021 Formula 1 title battle is taking.
Now the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend is adding a couple more. I know that because as I write this I’ve no idea how quickly the piece will become out of the date. That’s how quickly things are changing! To be four races from the end of the season and still have a championship fight between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton is already a treat. To be here and still find new uncertainties and controversies is what will make 2021 an all-time F1 classic.
Hamilton arrived in Brazil 19 points behind Verstappen. News of another grid penalty made it seem like the championship was only going more Verstappen’s way. But then Hamilton dominated Friday’s on-track running and claimed pole for the sprint race – a chance to score three points and then, given Mercedes’ apparent pace advantage, try to win the grand prix from sixth on the grid.
Maybe this isn’t all going Verstappen’s way after all…
Then another twist: Hamilton under investigation. A trip to the stewards for Mercedes and a controversy over the upper element of Hamilton’s rear wing. It seems it may have been flexing when the DRS was activated. Disqualification beckoned as these things are usually rather black and white.
Yet another twist, though: the hearing’s adjourned. Postponed until Saturday morning. As you read this, chances are you’re waiting for Brazil to wake up so it can all get started…
And then ANOTHER twist: Verstappen summoned to the stewards too! For an alleged breach of the part of the International Sporting Code that forbids anyone but designated officials touching/checking cars in parc ferme. Which, if you’ve seen the fan video that did the rounds after qualifying, is exactly what Verstappen did with his rear wing and Hamilton’s.
Yeah, that’s the same Mercedes rear wing that a little while after would be considered potentially in breach of the technical regulations. Whatever the outcome to all this the underlying message of this piece remains the same: what an extraordinary title fight this is. It has to be for truly trivial details to seem so important. An irregularity on the rear wing and a breach of parc ferme protocol are not things that the officials can turn a blind eye to so I’m not suggesting they wouldn’t care if these weren’t championship protagonists.
But what if Hamilton is disqualified? What if he’s let off the hook? What if Verstappen gets punished for what is effectively a procedural error? What if he gets away entirely with something he clearly isn’t allowed to do? In the context of a title fight that is still absolutely open, these things matter. They matter so much it seems disproportionate and unreasonable.
They matter because once these stewards’ hearings are done with, and the punishments handed out or not, there will be serious on-track action to contend with. Will Hamilton and Verstappen start from the front row? Will Hamilton have to recover from the back? Will Verstappen take a massive step towards the title this weekend or will Hamilton find a way to keep it alive? To be asking those questions with just four races left of the season is a very good place for F1 to be.