Craig Murto: Verstappen got robbed

As Lewis Hamilton held his trophy high for winning the United States Grand Prix (USGP), Max Verstappen must have been making sure he still had his wallet, because he certainly got robbed.

Verstappen wasn’t going to win the race at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas. But he thrilled the fans as he marched his Red Bull Racing machine from his 16th starting position to make a thrilling last-lap pass of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to get on the podium.

And then the absurd happened. Officials decided that Verstappen “exceeded track limits to gain an advantage” and assessed a five-second penalty, putting Raikkonen back on the podium.

Charlie Whiting is the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One (F1) race director. This call rests with him; he allowed it. He may have made the call himself.

Technically the call did obey the letter of the law; Verstappen, for a very brief moment, had all four tires outside the painted white line that denotes the racing surface of COTA’s Turn 17. But what’s odd is that cars were traveling outside the lines all day. In fact, they have been all year at nearly every circuit.

Christian Horner, Team Principal for Red Bull Racing, called the stewards’ decision “unbelievably harsh.” He observed that cars were going outside the lines all day and not a single penalty was issued. But of course you’d expect Horner not to be pleased.

Former champion Niki Lauda is chairman for Mercedes’ F1 efforts. You would expect that he would be thrilled to see his driver take the win.

But according to Motorsport.com, Lauda said after the race, “This decision is the worst I’ve ever seen. He (Verstappen) did nothing wrong. We’re racing drivers; we’re not on a normal road. It’s ridiculous to destroy the sport with this kind of decision.”

Lauda also observed that since the beginning of last season, the understanding was that stewards would let the racers race and not make these types of calls.

“Very simple,” Lauda said. “If they drive over (each other) and go upside down, only then they (the stewards) come in.”

And Mario Andretti, perhaps the most recognizable name in all of motorsports and one of only two drivers to win in F1, IndyCar, World Sports Car and NASCAR, Tweeted that he watched the pass many times and believed that Raikkonen forced Verstappen off the track. He also said that it was the best pass of the day, and that Verstappen was “robbed.”

Verstappen obviously wasn’t pleased, and he went on Twitter to say that the race steward was an “idiot” and that there should be a boycott of next year’s USGP.

Right up until the end of the day, the USGP was a huge success for F1 and COTA. But, as F1 seems to do on a regular basis, they shot themselves in the foot.

Watch the replay. It’s obvious that Verstappen is faster. It’s also obvious that Raikkonen moves over and doesn’t give Verstappen enough room; Verstappen cut the corner in response. Like Andretti said, Verstappen was forced off track.

Calls by race stewards are judgment calls. If they were black and white, at least a dozen drivers would have suffered perhaps 50 penalties for the same infraction during the race. This was a bad call. Verstappen thrilled spectators with an incredible drive through the field and a brave last-lap pass. It is beyond belief to think that a race steward would choose the most thrilling pass of the day to make a judgment call when the same infraction was ignored all race long.

Liberty Media Corporation, an American mass-media company that also owns the Atlanta Braves, SiriusXM satellite radio and other entities, now owns F1. They have since January. Liberty cannot be happy with this type of controversy on their home turf.

According to F1’s former marketing guru, Bernie Ecclestone, Liberty made it clear they didn’t want him hanging around, that it was time for a change. Maybe it’s time for Liberty, as owners of F1, to put some pressure on the FIA to get rid of Charlie Whiting. It is time for a change.

Max Verstappen is only 20 years old, and the Dutchman already has a huge fan base. He may have more raw talent than any young driver in F1 in decades. Already a two-time winner, his first win at age 18 secured him a spot as the youngest winner. He still has two years in which he can claim to be the youngest to qualify on pole.

His calls for a boycott of next year’s USGP are harsh, but Verstappen – and the fans – got robbed at COTA.