Among the mayhem that characterised last week’s German GP, the penalty to Charles Leclerc’s unsafe release after the pit stop generated an interesting debate. Ferrari was hit with a 5000 euro fine, instead of having the driver sanctioned with a time penalty, which made everyone turn up their noses. The case was later discussed between the FIA and F1 teams, which agreed to punish unsafe releases with a time penalty.
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto commented on the matter, stating that it was a difficult situation to judge, as traffic played a huge role in the dynamics of the incident at Hockenheim. "During the weekend in Hockenheim the drivers and the FIA met on Thursday and discussed the approach. What was key was to be safe to the mechanics in the pitlane. In the case of Charles, the Red Bull team was ready for the pitstop in front of him. I think the way Charles drove was very safe in respect of the mechanics and the pit crew. Yes, he had to slow down to be careful with the car coming in but that's a racing situation.”
According to Binotto, hitting Ferrari with a fine was ‘the proper way’, stressing the fact that the mishap took place in a tricky racing situation, when the pitlane was busy.
"I think as a team when you've got such traffic, what's key is safety first. Then we are in a racing situation. We've been fined, I don't think think there will be different judgement in the future” he said.
Red Bull’s Christian Horner described the episode from his point of view as ‘a pretty frightening prospect’ and soon drew a comparison between the fine received by Ferrari and Verstappen’s penalty in Monaco. The Briton demands consistency and clarity in terms of judgement, in order for the teams to know what to expect if a driver is released unsafely.
"I slightly crapped myself when I saw Romain Grosjean heading for me on the pitwall"
"It's a tricky one, Max got a penalty in Monaco for what was an unfair release. It was deemed it was because he touched the car of Bottas. They are slightly different incident but what you want to see more than anything is an element of consistency. Otherwise from a team point of view, from the guy releasing the car, what call does he make now?”
"It's a difficult one. When there's pitlanes like in Silverstone we had enough room for two cars to go side by side."
Now that an agreement has been reached and turned into a rule by consuetudo, the scenarios are narrower in case of unsafe release. However, every case is singular and numerous factors can create different nuances and degrees of unsafety. Plus, is it right to compromise the race of a driver even if the team is at fault? F1 is a team sport, therefore an error from the crew will eventually be costly to the whole outfit, with the driver being ultimately affected.
As the sporting regulations were tweaked back in 2014, it was already stated that unsafe releases would be punished either with a time penalty or a drive through, picturing a grid penalty in the worst cases. Opting for a fine has been rather unprecedented in this case, which is why the FIA promptly decided to extinguish a potential outbreak by fixing a rule. Only time will tell if such measure will be applied with consistency.