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Verstappen’s sacking remark – callous or a racer’s mentality?

by Edd Straw
5 min read

Max Verstappen was criticised in some quarters on social media for his suggestion that, were he a team boss, he would sack his driver if they had refused to take the restart after Romain Grosjean’s horrific accident on the first lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

It must be said that Verstappen comment made in a slightly throwaway manner, even though there’s no doubt he meant what he said.

But it does encapsulate a fundamental truth about the mentality of racing drivers.

“If the guy wouldn’t race, I would tell them ‘no? Then you will never sit in the seat again’” :: Max Verstappen

Both Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were asked directly in the post-race press conference if drivers should be given the option of whether to continue in the race after the shock of seeing such an accident.

Hamilton replied that, as drivers, they trust the FIA “implicitly” when it comes to safety.

He’d earlier said that, while it wasn’t easy to get back into the zone for racing after the lengthy stoppage and seeing many replays of the crash, he didn’t have any second thoughts about restarting the race.

Verstappen’s response was more straightforward.

“I don’t get why you wouldn’t race,” he said.

“If I would be the team boss, I would kick them out of the seat [if they didn’t]. If the guy wouldn’t race, if I would be the team boss I would tell them ‘no? Then you will never sit in the seat again’.”

Romain Grosjean crash Bahrain Grand Prix 2020

While it might appear a callous perspective, what Verstappen said was a statement of the realities of the mindset of racing drivers.

Not one of the remaining 19 drivers declined to take the restart, and while it’s impossible to be sure I doubt any of them had to be explicitly coerced into racing by their employer.

Usually, teams would not force a driver to race if they were unwilling to do so – although this has happened on occasion in motorsport history – but the bottom line is that racing drivers are a special breed.

Had Grosjean access to a spare car and been given the immediate all-clear, chances are he’d have restarted too

Threatening them with the sack should they have concerns is not the most delicate way to deal with the situation, but taking risks is a part of the job and safety standards are sky-high despite the extraordinary circumstances of Grosjean’s crash.

More importantly, those risks are part of the mentality. Yes, even the poorly-paid drivers are very well remunerated for what they do. But after big accidents in events around the world drivers regularly restart races in such circumstances – even the amateur club driver who pays for their own weekend fun would usually do so.

Max Verstappen Lewis Hamilton

“I feel sorry for anybody that is going to be your driver in the future,” joked Hamilton after hearing Verstappen’s response.

But while he showed more sensitivity to the possibility than Verstappen did, both fundamentally reflected a similar position.

Mental health concerns and the impact on drivers should be taken seriously and there could well be after-effects from seeing such a crash suffered by one of your peers.

It was clear that a number of drivers were shaken even once they realised Grosjean had escaped with only minor injuries.

But as a group they did what they always do and went back out there – and they were probably all the better for it.

Had Grosjean access to a spare car and been given the immediate all-clear, chances are he’d have restarted too.

There is the legitimate question of whether there might be what is called unvoiced coercion where drivers feel obliged to continue, and it’s true that such insidious pressures can exist but not be voiced.

That certainly would not be right, but it’s worth noting that Haas team principal Guenther Steiner has stressed it’s Grosjean’s decision whether or not he returns for next weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix.

As for the impact on drivers, it was real. Daniel Ricciardo’s anger at the amount of replays shown on the world TV feed is proof of that.

And it is right and proper that any impact on drivers that have witnessed the crash should be taken very seriously by the teams and F1 itself, for all involved have a duty of care.

Any team boss would do well to avoid Verstappen’s exact approach if they ever are in the position to respond to a driver who wants to withdraw in such circumstances.

But that doesn’t mean there is not an essential truth in what he says – not in terms of drivers being forced into it, but that the idea they would have to be coerced to race is alien to them.

Romain Grosjean crash Bahrain Grand Prix 2020

It is unfair to condemn Verstappen for stating a fact, even if you don’t like the way he expressed it.

The drivers are there to race and know the risks every time they get in the car even in these days of astonishing safety.

Nov 30 : Bahrain Grand Prix review

That’s what makes them racing drivers, even though it should never be used as an excuse for compromising when it comes to risk. That’s what would lead to the circumstances where the drivers might refuse to race, for example if there were some fundamental and serious safety problem that had not been addressed.

And often, the drivers are being protected more than they might think necessary. After all, as Grosjean himself admitted, he was once against the halo that probably saved his life on Sunday.

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