In the aftermath of Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s race ending collision at Monza, lead Sky F1 presenter Simon Lazenby joked of another culprit involved. During Sky F1’s coverage of an unforgettable Italian Grand Prix, Lazenby remarked: “There’s a third party that could be to blame, shall we just blame the sausage kerb?” This in return was met with equal sarcasm and laughter by co-host and three-time F1 GP winner Johnny Herbert replying “Naughty red sausage kerb.” However, before anyone does try to take issue with this element of Monza’s legendary race circuit, FIA race director Michael Masi has made clear that he doesn’t believe the sausage kerbs at Monza's first chicane require any modifications.
As has been well documented by now, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s race-ending collision resulted from the impact of the Dutchman running out of room to pass the seven-time Drivers’ F1 World Champion into the first chicane. Having run wide off the track and bounced across the sausage kerbs, Verstappen’s RB16B was now airborne before landing on top of Hamilton’s W12. Such was the force of elevation that the back right wheel of Verstappen’s 2021 challenger made contact with Hamilton’s helmet. Despite this, the hero of the collision was the Halo device which prevented any further serious injury to the British racer. So, what argument then that the villain of the piece was the sausage kerb itself rather than either driver?
FIA race director Michael Masi spoke to the media after Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix and made clear that the kerbs at the first chicane did work as intended. As such, Masi reiterated that the responsibility falls on the driver.
“In that situation I think the sausage kerb works quite well in that particular corner," Masi remarked. "It was a driver's choice. You can drive into a kerb or go to the left of it, which we saw numerous times that that happened over the course of the weekend.
"A number of people in similar situations chose to go to the left through those little bumps and rejoin."
Due to the fact Max Verstappen chose not to ‘go to the left through those little bumps and rejoin’, the Dutchman was deemed proportionally to blame for the incident. Consequently, the stewards handed Verstappen a three-place grid penalty for the next race of the F1 calendar – The Russian Grand Prix.
Such penalties seem more and more likely in future because modern F1 racing does not seem to have fully factored in the overall size of current F1 cars. It is well known that the 2021 challengers are the longest and widest they have ever been. The drivers’ style seems to have not changed due to this and nor have the circuits themselves.
The infamous corner at Monza where Sunday’s collision occurred is 90 degrees sharp at the end of the long pit straight - which also narrows from three lanes to two and then a sharp pinch point with - the sausage kerb. These old school tracks are very historic and very exciting - but were not designed for today’s two-metre-wide cars wearing wide and chunky tyres. Already we have seen some problems at Monaco, Mugello, Zandvoort and now Monza - all old tracks where the latest F1 cars are struggling. Therefore, when you have a car as long and as wide as an American pick-up truck, you must change your driving style.
At Silverstone, stewards decided Hamilton was ‘predominantly at fault’ and gave him a ten second penalty. In Monza, the stewards said Verstappen was ‘predominantly at fault’ - and gave him a three-place grid penalty. Thereby sparking the claims of inconsistent decisions which frustrate race fans.
This decision by the stewards has also sparked debate online. Comparisons have been made between Silverstone, when the stewards gave Hamilton a ten second penalty but the British racer won regardless. Michael Masi stated to the media in Monza that comparisons cannot be made between Lewis Hamilton’s role in ending Max Verstappen’s involvement at the 2021 British F1 Grand Prix and Sunday’s collision. In Monza both cars were wiped out and only if Verstappen had managed to continue would a similar sanction have been handed out.
"I think one of the things that we've generally agreed amongst the teams is that a five-second or a 10-second penalty, give or take, is there or thereabouts between the two of them," Masi announced. "You need to look at it on the basis of if they had continued, it would have been a time penalty in the race. However, they didn't. In Silverstone, you can't compare them at all, you've got two cars taken out in one incident, versus one car taken out in another incident.
"They could not continue to serve the penalty, so a grid penalty, as we've agreed with all of the teams, is applied for when someone doesn't continue."
All of this may end up being a moot point as is appears likely that Max Verstappen will incur an engine penalty in Sochi in the same way that Valtteri Bottas did at Monza. Therefore, should this prove to be the move Red Bull Racing makes, the 3-place grid drop determined by the stewards may be irrelevant in the grander scheme of things.
Former Formula One racer turned pundit Jolyon Palmer shared his views with f1.com on Sunday’s collision and reminded everyone that until the mindset of Hamilton and Verstappen changes, there will likely be a repeat of such incidents.
“While overall I’d attribute slightly more blame on Max here for his part of aggression – he was never fully alongside and he certainly had the better chance to and avoid it – it’s a marginal enough one, that, like Silverstone, I might have called it a racing incident, where both parties were racing hard and partly to blame for the coming together.
Lewis expected Max to back out rather than risk the collision, and Max expected Lewis to give him more space. In reality, given everything at stake, both of those expectations in the heat of the moment turned out to be naïve.”
‘Naïve’ is an excellent choice of word because Hamilton and Verstappen are two phenomenally gifted racers but to finish first, first you have to finish. The style of the tracks isn’t changing so therefore the style of the driver has to do so instead. Now, is the time for smart racing and (yes) calculated racing. No one should want a title decided by a DNF for a rival.
The real winner of Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix (other than much-loved Aussie racer Daniel Ricciardo) was the Halo device. Hopefully we won’t see it called into action anymore this season and instead can marvel at the splendour of two of the greatest drivers ever to grace the world of Formula One.