Smith: Verstappen’s penalty was fair; it’s the stewards’ inconsistency that’s wrong

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Lewis Hamilton’s commanding victory in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix may have put him on the brink of a fourth drivers’ championship, but as he crossed the line he wasn’t the dominant story coming out of Austin.

Indeed, an intense battle behind him had caught the eye of the world feed, as Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen went wheel-to-wheel for third place on the final lap.

The world feed’s quick cutaway back to Hamilton taking the checkered flag left the Verstappen/Raikkonen battle a cliffhanger, only picked up at the exit of Turn 19 once Verstappen’s Red Bull had cleared Raikkonen’s Ferrari.

So Verstappen had sent the crowd wild with his bold, ballsy move past Raikkonen through the long, sweeping right-hander in the final sector, the kind his three-year F1 career has frequently been built on.

Wild celebrations occurred in the Red Bull garage and below the podium, only for the stewards to swiftly put an end to them by handing Verstappen a five-second time penalty for going off-track and gaining an advantage, having crossed a kerb when passing Raikkonen.

Verstappen was handed the news in the cool-down room, forcing him to trudge away just as he did in Mexico last year when the stewards – one of whom also presided over his Austin penalty – gave him a late penalty.

The decision sparked outcry through the F1 community. Verstappen called out an “idiot steward” but didn’t refer to said steward, Garry Connolly, by name and even went as far as saying he hoped fans would not return next year at Austin in protest. Red Bull F1 chief Christian Horner labeled it “appalling,” while Mercedes’ Niki Lauda said the call was “the worst I’ve ever seen.”

In the day where Twitter sees all, many a video and screenshot of Verstappen’s pass was sent back and forth as fans and pundits alike debated the decision.

The definition of track limits was a hot topic, as it often as it Circuit of The Americas (F1 is not immune to the phenomenon here as sports car races also see track limits in the crosshairs) with the ‘good old days’ gang saying how a proper track would have grass, gravel or a wall there, not a kerb.

And so to enter the discourse…

The stewards were absolutely right to hand Max Verstappen a penalty for his move on Kimi Raikkonen.

As bold as it was, it was illegal. He placed all four wheels across the white line, technically going off the circuit. He cut a corner to gain an advantage that he retained to the checkered flag. Looking at the footage, you can clearly see he puts all four wheels off the track.

This should not detract from the bravado of the move. Verstappen sensed an opportunity and threw himself into it, capping off what looked set to be a stunning fightback from P16 to P3. It’s the kind of move few drivers would dare to pull off, again setting the 20-year-old out from his peers.

The biggest issue here is not the stewards’ decision; it’s how they handled it, and how they handled the other possible breaches of track limits throughout the race weekend, of which there were many.

Track limits have been hotly discussed throughout motorsport for some time, particularly at tracks such as COTA, Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring in Austria where there is a vast amount of run-off in lieu of grass or gravel for safety reasons.

The FIA has previously clamped down on track limits with a zero-tolerance approach in qualifying and a three-strike rule in the race, preventing drivers from gaining an advantage.

However, it was quickly made clear at COTA that no such stance would be taken as drivers continually ran wide at Turn 19 through practice and qualifying, carrying speed out of the fast left-hander and running over the kerb.

No mention was made of Turn 19 in race director Charlie Whiting’s notes to all teams and drivers ahead of the weekend, suggesting that it was deemed no advantage would be gained by running wide there.

Sebastian Vettel would agree with that summation, having lost the chance to jump Lewis Hamilton after running wide when trying to get the undercut, yet others appeared to make use of their added speed, not losing much momentum.

The advantage gained by exceeding track limits is greater in the race due to the presence of other cars, with a number of battles early on seeing drivers cross the white line through the first sector.

Valtteri Bottas was forced wide at Turn 1 by Daniel Ricciardo early, but was able to keep his foot in and stay ahead. Bottas also ran wide at Turn 12 when trying to defend from Verstappen later in the race, exceeding track limits.

Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2017 in Austin, Texas. Photo: Getty Images

In neither case was any action taken. The stewards did note the Bottas-Ricciardo fight – one of the highlights of the race as they duked back and forth through the esses – but did not dish out any penalties.

This is the kind of inconsistency that makes the decision to penalize Verstappen difficult to accept entirely. Verstappen’s breach was more severe given the context of his battle with Raikkonen and the timing, being on the last lap, but it should have been handled in a similar fashion.

Six minutes passed between the stewards confirming they would be investigating the Bottas-Ricciardo fight on Lap 2 and deciding to take no action. Less time was taken to decide Verstappen’s fate, such was the desperation to ensure the wrong driver did not appear on the podium, as ultimately happened in Mexico last year.

In the context of the fight, though, and the importance of setting a final result, more time should have been taken to make a proper, fair decision.

Verstappen was fairly penalized – but on that basis, it was a mistake that Bottas was not penalized for his off-track runs. It was also a mistake that a harder stance was not taken on drivers running wide at Turn 19.

The inconsistency from the stewards at COTA will bring their policing into the spotlight once again, with Niki Lauda saying it will be discussed by F1 team bosses at the next Strategy Group meeting.

Would a permanent body resolve things? Perhaps not. Mistakes are human after all – but the reaction to them is how improvements are made. F1 has done well in recent months to admit to its own shortcomings through the past. How the FIA-appointed stewards now respond to the events at COTA will be fascinating.

As for Verstappen? His “idiot steward” quote aimed at Garry Connelly was uncalled for, and may see him get a wrap on the knuckles for not respecting the rule-makers much as Vettel did in Mexico last year with his tirade against Charlie Whiting.

However, the Dutchman did offer a mature, sensible answer when talking to NBCSN after the race, proving himself once again to be ahead of his years both on- and off-track.

“At the end of the day, just be clear about it,” Verstappen said. “If you say, ‘OK, that’s fine’, we’ll do what we like. If you say ‘stay within the white lines’, then we’ll stay within the white lines. It’s very simple.

“We need more consistency. At the end of the day, let us race. It was five centimeters and everyone was loving it. It was a great show.

“Just be consistent. If it wasn’t allowed, OK, that’s fine, I finished fourth. But don’t say everyone else, you can run off the track anywhere you like, and never give any penalties, then I do it, and you give me a penalty…”

Supercross 2023: Results and points after Anaheim 2

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The Triple Crown format shook up the results in the Monster Energy Supercross round at Anaheim 2 with no rider dominating, but in the end two wins and a fifth-place were enough to give Chase Sexton the overall victory. It was the second 450 Supercross win of his career coming a little more than a year after he won his first in San Diego.

This year San Diego was not nearly as kind. Sexton crashed on the first lap of his heat and his Honda was center punched by another rider. The damage sent him into the Last Chance Qualifier and a poor gate pick contributed to his fifth-place finish last week.

Sexton showed he was more than ready to put that behind him Saturday night in Angel Stadium by winning the first of three races in the Triple Crown format. Entering Race 3 as one of three drivers who could have secured the overall win, he chased down Jason Anderson on Lap 4 and led the final 10 laps.

RESULTS: Click here for 450 Results; Click here 250 Results

Ultimately Anderson dropped to third in the final Supercross moto of the season in Anaheim 2, but strong results in the first two races secured second overall. Anderson won the second race and his 5-1-3 fell two positions shy of the overall win.

All questions about whether Ken Roczen would need an adjustment period as he switched from Honda to Suzuki have been answered: He did not. Sweeping the top five in his two Supercross Main events and in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown, he amassed enough points with his results of 2-3-4 to score his first podium of the season.

Click here for 450 Triple Crown Race 1 | Race 2 | Race 3

Cooper Webb steadily improved his results during the Triple Crown, but a seventh-place finish in the first race proved to be too much to overcome. He finished fourth in Race 2 and charged to second in the final race to secure fourth overall.

Dylan Ferrandis showed a lot of consistency with results of 4-6-5 to round out the top five.

Eli Tomac was one of the three riders who might have secured the overall victory by winning Race 3, but he pressed too hard while trying to pass Webb for second. He jumped wide midway through the race and landed on a Tuff Blox. After getting violently pitched from his Yamaha, he found that it was slightly damaged when he remounted and could only salvage sixth-place points with finishes of 3-2-13.

It was enough for him to maintain the overall lead in the points’ standings by four over Sexton and Webb.

Click here for Round 1 450 Overall results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points


Levi Kitchen didn’t win a battle on Saturday night, but he won the war. He established in the top five in Race 1 with a fourth-place finish and then swept the runner-up spot in the final two motos. That first SuperMotocross victory of his career with a previous best of seventh in Supercross this year in Anaheim 1 and a third in Motocross last year at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. It was a much-needed morale boost for Kitchen, who finished 21st last week in San Diego.

The night was disappointing by Jett Lawrence standards. He suffered falls in the first two races and stalled one another occasion, but was able to overcome those problems each time with results of third and sixth. That put him in a position where he had a shot at the overall if Kitchen stumbled just a little in the final moto. Lawrence won Race 3, but still does not have an overall Triple Crown win in the Supercross 250 division. With only one more Triple Crown on the schedule before he climbs on a 450 for the outdoor season, time is running out.

Click here for 250 Triple Crown Race 1 | Race 2 | Race 3 | Last Chance Qualifier

The Triple Crown always shakes up the Supercross results and Anaheim 2 was no exception.

Stilez Roberston capitalized on mistakes by Lawrence, RJ Hampshire and Cameron McAdoo during Race 2 and won. That victory, coupled with a third in Race 3 and a sixth in the first main, was enough to give him the final position on the podium. In this format the results are added together and the lowest number wins. Robertson tied Lawrence with identical results of 10 accumulated points, but Lawrence’s win in the final race relegated Robertson to third.

With a total score of 15 (5-4-6), Mitchell Oldenburg was a relatively distant fifth. The 18 points he earned are enough to keep him fourth in the standings and with McAdoo and Hampshire experience trouble in the race, he was able to close the gap on second in the standings.

Click here for 250 West Overall results | 250 West rider points

After missing last week’s Main, Max Vohland finished with results of 7-8-4 in the Anaheim 2 Supercross race and rounds out the top five.

McAdoo and Hampshire both lost ground in the championship standings with difficult races.

McAdoo was able to salvage sixth-place points (17) and that allowed him to leapfrog Hampshire (12). Proving that even bad days are not that bad for last year’s 250 East champion, Lawrence left Anaheim 2 with a points’ lead of 16 over second-place.

2023 Results

Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Tomac, Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 2: Ken Roczen moves up; Chase Sexton falls
Week 1: Eli Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s