Max Verstappen once again found his driving the subject of discussion in the stewards office, following Sunday’s Formula One Japanese Grand Prix. The Dutchman clashed with Lewis Hamilton while defending second place in a hard-fought duel between the pair in the closing stages of the race.
The world champion tried to dive down the outside of the Red Bull at the final chicane in a last-gasp move near the end of the penultimate lap. But Verstappen doggedly hung on for second place, rebuffing Hamilton’s attempt with a robust move that sent the Mercedes wide onto the run-off. The Briton complained about Verstappen’s driving on the radio, which Mercedes followed up with an official protest to the stewards after the race. “Already the laps before he was closing quite a bit,” said Verstappen. “But I saw already out of turn 14 he had a good exit so yeah, I was using a bit of energy and I defended into the last chicane. All good,” the 19-year-old added.
Both Verstappen and Hamilton left the track shortly after the race and as they weren’t available to present their version of events, the stewards decided to leave it to their colleagues at the next race in Austin to look into the matter. Mercedes, though, later withdrew the protest “in the interests of establishing a final official result,” a move backed by Hamilton. “There is no protest from myself. Just heard the team had but I told them it is not what we do. We are champions, we move on. End of!,” he said on Twitter.
Verstappen has been a breath of fresh air for the sport since he arrived as a 17-year-old with Toro Rosso last season but his uncompromising attitude and aggressive tactics have caused controversy. He clashed with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel following August’s Belgian Grand Prix after defending aggressively against the Ferrari pair following a collision between the trio at the start.
The governing International Automobile Federation’s race director Charlie Whiting had a word with Verstappen about his driving on Sunday. But his move against Hamilton won the praise of his team principal, Christian Horner. “I thought it was firm but fair,” said the Briton. “I didn’t really see any issue with it. Lewis didn’t seem to have any problem after the race, apparently he said well done to him.”