The 2021 Saudi Arabian was as eventful as it could be. Crazy things happened during the race, but none as important as the crash between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. Was Max to blame for the crash? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
I took the “telemetry” data from the F1 live timing app to create this analysis. This data contains information about time, speed, as well as throttle and brake data. Having said that, this data is not quite as detailed as the data that the teams have. The interval between data points is around 0.2 to 0.3 seconds. While this data is not very granular, it can still provide useful information.
With this data, I created 3 plots. First, a plot that contains the speed of both Max and Lewis at the time of their incident. Second, a chart that contains the same information, but zoomed in to provide a more accurate visualization. Third, an acceleration chart that has the acceleration data based on the speed and time data. The result is a chart that contains the acceleration (in g-force units) on the y-axis vs the time in seconds on the x-axis.
It’s important to remember that acceleration is nothing more than the rate of change of speed. An acceleration of 0 means that an object is maintaining its speed. The more negative the acceleration is, the faster the object is reducing its speed. The steeper the slope, the faster the object is accelerating or decelerating.
Acceleration can be calculated as following
This means that an object that goes from 100km/h to 0 km/h in 1 second has a negative acceleration of 2.83255g.
The speed data shows how both Max and Lewis started to slow down in the final section before turn 27. Around the 11 second mark, we see Verstappen accelerating again. This is just after Lewis crashed into the back of Verstappen’s car. Max accelerated hard before breaking at turn 27.
We see Lewis only accelerating to around 130 km/h before reaching turn 27, braking, and then accelerating once again to reach the main straight of the Jeddah Street Circuit.
If we zoom in we can see perhaps a slightly better picture of what happened. Both drivers were slowing down at a similar rate, with Lewis matching Verstappen’s speed. It’s not until after the second 10 that we see things start to change. From second 10 to second 10.5, both drivers maintain more or less the same speed. After the second 10.5 but before the second 11 we see both lines start to diverge, with Max’s speed dipping to less than 120 km/h, while Lewis’ speed only goes down to 132 km/h. It is this differential of 10+ km/h ended up causing the collision between the two Championship contenders.
In the chart, we can see how both Verstappen and Lewis had a negative acceleration from second 8 to second 10. This means that both were decelerating at a similar rate, therefore losing speed at a similar rate. It isn’t until second 10.55 until second 10.85 that we see Verstappen decelerate to -3g, while Lewis maintains a constant deceleration of around -1g. This sudden deceleration is consistent with the steward’s report that says that Max decelerated to -2.4g. Perhaps the stewards calculated an overall deceleration over a slightly different period of time than my analysis did. Having said that, the data provided by the F1 live timing app clearly shows a peak deceleration of slightly over 3g.
While the data that I have to make this analysis is not necessarily the most detailed, it clearly shows that Verstappen’s car suddenly decelerated to a peak force of -3g. At this time, Lewis was already quite close to Max and was unable to even react to this sudden loss in acceleration and speed. This whole event happened in around 0.5 seconds, which is quite fast.
What about the video from the race? Well, this video is unfortunately not conclusive, since it’s quite hard to judge speed in such a short amount of time, let alone acceleration.
So who’s fault is it then? I watched the race and initially believed that the crash was caused by Lewis. The data, however, shows that Verstappen suddenly decelerated, leaving Lewis no breathing room. Having said that, I believe this was caused by both drivers playing games. Lewis had no reason to be there. Max was slowing down quite dramatically. Lewis could’ve overtaken him easily instead of matching Max’s speed and staying right behind him. Max had no reason to brake that hard when Lewis was that close. There was no way in my mind that Lewis could’ve avoided that crash. Less than half a second is not enough to react.
We’re about to reach the grand finale of the 2021 Formula 1 season. With tensions this high, clearly, every action will be highly scrutinized. This time the stewards blame Max Verstappen, with the data supporting their decision. I still believe, however, that Lewis played a big role in the impact, and that the fault doesn’t lie 100% on Verstappen.
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