Max Verstappen's infamous 2021 'brake testing' incident against Lewis Hamilton: Is it legal?
The 2021 F1 season saw Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton battle hard for the world championship. Hence, they came together on several occasions and even crashed into each other. One of the most controversial incidents took place at the 2021 F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix when Verstappen allegedly brake-checked Hamilton.
During the race, Hamilton was about to overtake Verstappen, but the Dutchman defended his position by going off the track. Race control officials noted the incident and concluded that Verstappen gained an advantage by leaving the track, and they asked him to return the position to Hamilton.
Max Verstappen slowed down to give the place back to Hamilton, but due to some misunderstanding, Hamilton crashed into the back of the Red Bull instead of overtaking. While the Briton was furious to see Verstappen brake-checking him on the straight, Red Bull reasoned with the race directors that their driver slowed down only to return the position.
The incident was later analyzed, and the stewards discovered that Verstappen was on the racing line while slowing down. Additionally, the telemetry of his car revealed some irregular and extreme braking patterns on Lap 37 when he was waiting for Lewis Hamilton to pass. Hence, the incident concluded with the Dutchman receiving a 10-second penalty.
Since brake-testing in F1 can be alarmingly dangerous, this clever tactic by Max Verstappen didn't go unnoticed. Though the Dutchman could be innocent and didn't brake-check intentionally, his being on the racing line and braking erratically was quite dangerous nonetheless.
Brake-testing is quite common on regular roads, where drivers express their frustration by intentionally slowing down or braking in front of cars. Doing so in F1, however, where cars race at eye-watering speeds, can be extremely deadly. Hence, it is not legal to perform a brake check in the sport at all. The FIA considers it reckless driving and can hand heavy on-track and even off-track penalties to those who do so.
Other brake-testing incidents similar to Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton's
The incident involving Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in the 2021 F1 Saudi Arabian GP is not the first in the sport's long history.
Hamilton allegedly brake-checked Sebastian Vettel just before the safety car entered the pits during the 2017 F1 Azerbaijan GP. The Briton slowed down when Vettel was expecting him to speed up and restart the race. Since the stewards found no evidence of Hamilton intentionally slowing down, he didn't receive a penalty.
Back in 1998, Michael Schumacher crashed into David Coulthard as the Briton slowed down to let Schumacher lap him under blue flags. However, since it was raining heavily in Spa, the heavy spray from Coulthard's McLaren blocked Schumacher's vision, resulting in the crash. Moreover, Coulthard didn't leave the racing line while he was slowing down, which was one of the main reasons why they collided with each other.