Verstappen farce leaves F1's Austin party with bitter hangover
Formula One's tendency to shoot itself in the foot came to the fore on Sunday as Max Verstappen was robbed of a deserved podium finish.
Lewis Hamilton standing on the brink of a fourth world title, Mercedes winning a fourth consecutive constructors' championship, Carlos Sainz Jr enjoying a sparkling Renault debut, Usain Bolt's inability to match Patrick Stewart in the podium interview stakes, Michael Buffer getting Sunday started with a classic "Let's get ready to rumble".
Any and all of those ought to have been the subject of this United States Grand Prix summary, but Omnisport's Matthew Scott says Formula One's propensity for madness prevented that when Max Verstappen was robbed of a thrilling podium finish at the Circuit of the Americas.
Now, it must be said: Yes, Verstappen did exceed track limits overtaking Kimi Raikkonen at the penultimate corner. Yes, that is against the rules. And, yes, it should be punished.
But after a weekend in which likely every other driver on the track did the same and got away with it?
Will the COTA lap record be taken away from Hamilton? He ran off the track exiting turn nine on his pole-position sealing Saturday best after all...
Verstappen's mesmerising drive deserved to be remembered, but not like this.
Starting 16th after he was involved in the latest episode of F1's tragicomedy that is engine penalties, the Dutchman was sixth by lap 10, running slower tyres than the majority of the field.
That 27-lap opening stint on supersofts had a telling impact on the race, as Sebastian Vettel was forced to bail out of a pursuit of Lewis Hamilton to cover the Red Bull and saw his flickering hopes of a fifth title go up in smoke.
Vettel and Verstappen both made mincemeat of the out-of-sorts Valtteri Bottas before the German was allowed back into second by Raikkonen, who was utterly outdone by Verstappen into turn 19 – the Finn opening the ajar door just in time as Verstappen took evasive action to the inside.
It did, of course, take Verstappen off track, but it also brought the Austin crowd to its feet, as they had been when Vettel overtook Hamilton off the line, only for the Mercedes to regain P1 on lap six.
Liberty Media's determination to improve F1's standing in their own country is no secret – Chase Carey has made clear he wants a second Stateside race on the calendar – and last weekend saw the glitz factor dialled all the way up to impress an American audience.
The time for qualifying was moved so people could enjoy racing and a Justin Timberlake concert, come Sunday the drivers were presented to the crowd like heavyweight boxers by iconic announcer Buffer, Bolt interviewed the top three – having earlier gone for a spin with Hamilton – rather than a former driver turned pundit, and the podium racers clinked pink champagne bottles amid a rosey hue that descended over the whole weekend in aid of breast cancer awareness.
A breathtaking drive from the back to earn a spray of bubbly ought to have been the icing on a sickly sweet cake, but Verstappen's penalty was a bitter surprise.
The temperamental 20-year-old did cross a line in some of his post-race comments, claiming he hoped "the fans didn't like this decision and hopefully next year they won't come". Without the fans, good luck on extending your contract beyond the freshly inked 2020, Max.
But he did strike at the kernel of a point.
A plethora of tracks falling into financial disrepair and the Michelin sham of 2005 mean this event remains a precariously placed one in its attempts to become established in the sport.
After winning Sunday's race to go 66 points clear in the championship with three races to go, Hamilton claimed the Austin circuit was his favourite on the calendar and all the ingredients are in place for it to be one of the best-loved weekends in F1.
But only if the sport's organisers will let it happen.