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Formula 1

The F1 penalty that made a steward ‘public enemy number one’

by Sam Smith
4 min read

The infamous pass made by Max Verstappen on Kimi Raikkonen at the 2017 US Grand Prix at COTA was one of the toughest in-race decisions ever for one of the stewards involved.

The move, which sparked a social media furore, has been spoken about in length for the first time by international steward Garry Connelly, who with three other officials presided over the decision to strip Verstappen of his third place and reinstate Raikkonen to the final rung of the podium that day.

Speaking at the FIA’s International Stewards programme this morning, Connelly went over the controversial Verstappen/Raikkonen, describing it as an example of making a high-pressure decision.

“I think that’s something that always sticks with me, that was probably one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to take with my colleagues, but it’s something that I still believe we did the right thing,” said Connelly (pictured below, right, with fellow steward Danny Sullivan).

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Spanish Grand Prix Preparation Day Barcelona, Spain

The decision to hand Verstappen a five-second addition to his race time dropped him to fourth and the Red Bull driver reacted angrily, initially referring to an ‘idiot steward’ – and even calling them a ‘m****l’ – in a pair of heat-of-the-moment comments.

It was widely understood that both comments were aimed at Connelly, with Verstappen and his team manager Christian Horner pointing to his role in demoting Verstappen off the podium in the Mexican GP a year prior.

The anger was also evident in Verstappen’s famously volatile father, Jos, who posted on social media channel, Twitter: ‘Shame on you, FIA,’ shortly after the sanction was confirmed.

The younger Verstappen ultimately apologised for his outburst, having been publicly advised to do so by the race director Charlie Whiting.

In the meantime, the debate had continued for days after the incident and penalty, with fans divided on the decision, which had been taken on a 4-0 decree by a stewarding panel that included driver steward Mika Salo.

Connelly, who is also a member of the FIA World Motor Sport Council, an FIA Environmental Delegate, and a member of the Statutes Review Commission and ISC Review Commission, recalled that there was immediate concern over Verstappen’s move on the final lap of the grand prix.

He referred to Salo’s quick proclamation on the incident just after it had happened, saying that the Finn “is extremely quick on seeing what’s going on a race track”.

“He said to us immediately: ‘That was a brilliant move by Max but he was off the track by about a metre on the inside of the corner, he left the track to overtake.’

“We went back and looked at the visual. It was very, very clear within a minute of us looking at that, and my fellow stewards in the room, Radovan Novak, Mika Salo and Dennis Dean, it was a difficult decision because we had to pull Max Verstappen off the podium and replace him with Kimi Raikkonen.”

2017 F1 United States GP podium

The decision, which stated that Verstappen had gained ‘a lasting advantage’, was made ahead of the podium ceremony meaning that for the second time in a year the Red Bull driver had to be pulled out of the pre-podium waiting area and be replaced by another driver.

The fallout from the US GP decision was immense as many fans viewed the daring overtake on the final lap as a brilliant piece of opportunism on Verstappen’s part.

“Boy oh boy, did we cop a lot of criticism,” recalled Connelly.

“We were public enemies number one in in the Netherlands, and all the Red Bull fans around the world were up in arms, and a lot of other people as well.”

Connelly said that a significant part of a steward’s remit at a race is to see incidents from all sides and viewpoints.

“We also looked at it from another perspective, in that another driver had been robbed of his rightful position, because Max couldn’t have overtaken Kimi if he’d have complied with the rules,” he said.

“To comply with the rules very simple, you cannot go off the track to overtake someone, you cannot leave the track and gain an advantage. This was a lasting advantage. He went from fourth to third by overtaking one metre off the track.”

Christian Horner Garry Connelly F1

Although unequivocal in stating that he believes the right decision was made that day, Connelly did also say he had some sympathy for Verstappen in the specific circumstances.

“When it comes to a difficult decision, yes, you feel sorry for the person that you may have to penalise,” he said.

“But you also have to think about the other competitors that are affected by the move or by the action of the competitor that you are investigating.

“We took the right decision. And I’m pretty sure if you speak to Max Verstappen today, he’ll agree that in retrospect, it was the right decision.”

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