FIA explains why Max Verstappen penalty decision took so long

A sullen looking Charles Leclerc of Ferrari and Red Bull's Max Verstappen

FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi has explained why it took so long to reach a decision on whether Max Verstappen's overtake on Charles Leclerc should have been penalised or not.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen passed Ferrari's Charles Leclerc on Lap 69 of the Austrian Grand Prix to take the lead of the race he would eventually go on to win just two laps later as he crossed the finish line, but his victory remained provisional long after the chequered flag was flown.

In fact, it took almost three hours from the end of the race to confirm that Verstappen would indeed keep his victory, which angered many fans.

But Masi has explained the reasoning behind it and the process involved in making such a decision.

The investigation process starts when Masi notes an incident and refers it to the stewards. This is a new process whereby the race director logs any incidents he deems worthy of investigation. The stewards then ultimately decide if they investigate it or not, in this case they chose to do so after the race, giving them the opportunity to speak to both drivers, and this is part of the reason why it took so long.

"The first part [of the delayed verdict] was the proximity to the end [of the race]," explained Masi. "The primary part was we didn’t get going until six, with all the various media commitments with regards to the [media] pen and post-race conference.

"The hearing itself was about an hour, with all parties involved. Then the stewards deliberated, looked at other cases, precedents, spoke between themselves and by the time you write a decision and attempt to make sure there’s no typos or anything in it, summoning the teams back, delivering the decision to them… time flies a lot more when you’re sitting outside like all of us than when you’re sitting in the room.

"It was just that they were considering absolutely everything. They had all four people, both drivers and both team managers, in there for an hour."

When asked about the damage such lengthy decision could cause to the sport, particularly if Verstappen had lost his win three hours later, Masi said it's a "nuance" of motorsport, but that the FIA does it possibly can to avoid changing the result, but when important incidents happen so late in the race, often their only option is to look into afterwards.

"I think it’s a tough one because it’s one where you want the right decision made, considering all the circumstances and all the factors that are around and using as much information as you have available," he explained. 

"So that’s one part. The other part is that is no different in some areas to a technical matter, post-race scrutineering, i.e. if there’s a technical matter that gets discovered and it’s the winner it’s a different circumstance.

"It’s just one of the nuances in this sport. We can’t blow a whistle and freeze everything to make a decision and then play on. We try wherever possible to have the podium be the podium, but when it’s in that last two, three laps of the race, it does make it quite difficult.

"But if it was something that happened on lap 3, I think if the stewards felt they had everything it would have been play-on. So it's a tough one, it’s a balancing act."