ABU DHABI — Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton could face a points deduction or suspension if they intentionally take out the other to win the championship at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Verstappen and Hamilton enter the Dec. 12 winner-takes-all title decider level on points, with Verstappen ahead on a tiebreaker because he has nine wins to his rival’s eight.
The pair have collided three times this season, raising concerns of the title being decided by one driver crashing into the other this Sunday.
With his title lead, Verstappen does not need to finish if Hamilton crashes out, while Hamilton would only need to finish 10th if Verstappen did not finish.
Hamilton overcame a 10-second time penalty to win the British Grand Prix in July after a collision which took Verstappen out of the race, while Verstappen was found predominantly to blame for the incident which took both out of the Italian Grand Prix. They both collided again at last weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, although finished first and second.
FIA race director Michael Masi has issued a reminder of the FIA’s sporting code, which gives motorsport’s governing body to hand down harsh penalties — and even strip a driver of a championship — if they feel one driver has tried to influence the outcome of the championship in an unsportsmanlike fashion.
In his pre-event notes, published Thursday, Masi wrote: “All Competitors and Drivers are reminded of the various requirements detailed in the FIA International Sporting Code. In particular I would like to remind you of the following articles detailed below.
“Article 12.2.1 – Breach of Rules and in particular Article 12.2.1.l ‘Any infringement of the principles of fairness in Competition, behaviour in an unsportsmanlike manner or attempt to influence the result of a Competition in a way that is contrary to sporting ethics.’
“29.4 Article 12.4.5 ‘For all the FIA Championships, cups, challenges, trophies or series, the stewards may also decide to impose the following penalties: Suspension for one or more Competitions, withdrawal of points for the Championship, cup, challenge, trophy, series.’
“Article 12.4.5.a ‘Points should not be deducted separately from Drivers and Competitors, save in exceptional circumstances.'”
As with any controversial on-track collision, these decisions would be made on the basis of the four race stewards at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Masi, the race director, does not have individual say in the decisions made at each event.
There is some precedent for this kind of decision. Michael Schumacher was disqualified from the 1997 championship after driving into Jacques Villeneuve at the final race, in an attempt to take both out of the race. The incident backfired for Schumacher, as he retired from the race and Villeneuve finished with the points he needed to win the title.
Schumacher won the 1994 championship after colliding with Damon Hill at that year’s final race, but that controversial incident passed without a penalty or punishment.
Ayrton Senna also won in 1990 by driving Alain Prost off the road at that year’s Japanese Grand Prix. Senna later admitted he planned to drive into Prost if he got ahead of him on the run from the grid to Turn 1, which is how the situation played out, but he also escaped without penalty.
The rules of racing have been blurred this year after a serious of different decisions made in the case of a driver on the inside of a corner drifting wide to defend from a driver on the outside. Verstappen was not penalised for running Hamilton wide at the Brazilian Grand Prix, but then given a five-second penalty for a similar incident in Saudi Arabia.