The FIA Deny Mercedes Request for ‘Right of Review’ Allowing Max Verstappen’s Lap 48 Defence Against Lewis Hamilton to go Unpunished

The FIA has finally responded to Mercedes GP’s ‘right of review’ request, denying it and upholding their original decision from the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. The ruling comes after five days of speculation and analysis over Max Verstappen’s defensive maneuver against Lewis Hamilton on lap 48 of last week’s Formula 1 race.

The decision comes as no surprise to many but could have broader implications in Formula 1. Several drivers have suggested that if Formula 1, the stewards, and the FIA deem Verstappen’s driving acceptable, they might change their on track behavior when attacking and defending against other cars. 

The FIA’s rulings on driving standards are a hot topic this year, with many viewing the decisions made favor specific drivers and punish others. The stewards generally don’t make their decision process known. Still, many are now calling for increased transparency as similar incidents across multiple weekends seem to have different and conflicting punishments and penalties.

The lap 48 incident and the controversy surrounding it

Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W10 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil on November 17, 2019 | Charles Coates/Getty Images

At the Interlagos Circuit in São Paulo, Brazil, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes GP faced an uphill battle against a race weekend that appeared to be slipping away. A five-place grid penalty for an engine change and a disqualification from the qualifying session meant that Hamilton would start last for the sprint race. 

A masterful performance saw the Briton climb up the order and finish in fifth on Saturday. The engine change grid penalty applies to Sunday’s main race, so Hamilton would have to start in the 10th spot despite finishing strong in the sprint.

Displaying all the skill and experience that made him a seven-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton scythed through the field and found himself closing on race leader and title rival Max Verstappen. On lap 48, Hamilton stormed around the outside of Verstappen into turn four. Verstappen, on the inside, ran wide, sending the pair off the track, but kept the lead of the race.

Hamilton would find a way around Verstappen to take the win, but many viewed the lap 48 move as unnecessarily aggressive and dangerous. The race stewards regarded the event as a ‘racing incident,’ but Mercedes saw it differently, as the officials did not have access to Verstappen’s onboard camera, which could shed light on the cause of the off-track excursion.

A few days after the race, the footage from the Red Bull car became public, and Mercedes GP opted to file a ‘right to review’ protest over the incident. Mercedes believed that Verstappen’s defensive driving was intentional and deserving of a penalty.

If the FIA deemed Mercedes’ protest valid, Verstappen could receive a penalty that would strip him of his second-place finish in the race. That would have enormous implications for the championship battle and could have proven to be the pivotal moment in the 2021 season. 

The FIA issues a ruling and the teams react to the decision

Formula One’s world governing body FIA logo is seen at the entrance of its headquarters of the federation in Paris | JACQUES DEMARTHON/Getty Images

The FIA and the stewards from the Sao Paulo Grand Prix met virtually to discuss Mercedes’ protest and the new footage of the incident. However, the stewards determined that there was no reason to change their initial assessment of the incident.

In the official announcement, as quoted by Formula 1, the FIA stated, “At the time of the decision, the Stewards felt they had sufficient information to make a decision, which subsequently broadly aligned with the immediate post-race comments of both drivers involved.

“Had they felt that the forward-facing camera video from Car 33 [Verstappen] was crucial in order to make a decision, they would simply have placed the incident under investigation – to be investigated after the race – and rendered a decision after this video was available. They saw no need to do so.

“The Competitor’s [Mercedes GP] position is that this new footage provides sufficient information for the Stewards to come to an altogether different conclusion than they did previously. However, the Stewards determine that the footage shows nothing exceptional that is particularly different from the other angles that were available to them at the time, or that particularly changes their decision that was based on the originally available footage.”

The FIA would go on to clarify further, “In the judgment of the Stewards, there is nothing in the footage that fundamentally changes the facts. Nor even, does this show anything that wasn’t considered by the Stewards at the time.”

Speaking at the official pre-race press conference, as quoted by, Mercedes GP team principal Toto Wolff had this to say about the decision, “Completely expected.”

Wolff would go on to elaborate, “We wanted to trigger a discussion around it because probably it will be a theme in the next few races, and that objective is achieved. We didn’t really think it would go any further.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner responded, “Obviously the right decision because it would open Pandora’s Box regarding a lot of other incidents that happened at that race.”

Implications for racing moving forward

Red Bull’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen (R) and Mercedes’ Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas (R) power their cars during the start of Brazil’s Formula One Sao Paulo Grand Prix on November 14, 2021 | CARL DE SOUZA/Getty Images

The simple view of Brazil’s lap 48 incident would be that running a competitor off the track is ‘OK.’ But, as with anything in racing, it is much more complicated than that.

The stewards generally judge incidents on a case-by-case basis and do not group similar incidents together and assign them similar penalties. The defensive manoeuver Verstappen applied to Hamilton is being viewed as a racing incident. Verstappen explained that the Red Bull picked up understeer, making it impossible to stay on the track. Whether that is true or not depends on how you interpret the videos of the incident.

Charles LeClerc, speaking to reporters ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix, as quoted by said of the lap 48 incident, “Honestly, I really don’t mind [what the outcome is] but whatever is allowed, I just want it to be clear as a driver. That’s the only thing that matters to me.

“If this is allowed, then overtaking around the outside will be very difficult.”

The rules of engagement have always been a grey area for drivers, and there is never a single best way to enforce on track behavior. But the ruling by the stewards and the FIA on the lap 48 incident could open the door for overly aggressive driving. That would be exciting for fans watching the action but is extremely dangerous for the drivers engaged in a 200 mph battle. 

Whether this decision changes the behavior of drivers on the grid remains unanswered, but it will certainly give each competitor something to think about when they are attacking or defending in the upcoming races.

Related: Formula 1 Driver Max Verstappen Gets Defensive Against Offensive Lewis Hamilton, Goes Off the Road During Brazilian Grand Prix Tangle on Lap 48