1. Stefano Domenicali as the new head of F1
On Friday the 25th of September, F1 announced that the former Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali will become the new CEO and President of Formula 1, with current CEO and Chairman Chase Carey becoming non-executive Chairman. Domenicali will begin his new role in January 2021. The 55-year-old Italian is currently the chief executive of Lamborghini, and was Ferrari team principal from 2008 to 2014 before he joined the Volkswagen Group. Domenicali has also been head of the single-seater commission of the FIA, a role he continues to hold.
Following the announcement, Domenicali said "I am thrilled to join the Formula 1 organisation, a sport that has always been part of my life. I was born in Imola and live in Monza. I've remained connected to the sport through my work with the Single Seater Commission at the FIA and I look forward to connecting with the teams, promoters, sponsors and many partners in Formula 1 as we continue to drive the business ahead."
The perspective of Domenicali leading the sport met a lot of positive responses from the paddock, be it team principals or drivers, even if some cheekingly pointed out that its appointment means the sport’s commercial rights holder and governing body will both be led by former Ferrari team bosses.
2. An eventful qualifying session
With all the practice sessions dominated by Mercedes, the two questions in most people’s minds entering qualifying were certainly “will Bottas manage to beat his teammate to the pole position this time or will he target P2 to get the tow from him?” And the answer was “No, he did not get neither pole, nor P2”. Hamilton out qualified the Red bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563s in second, and his teammate by 0.652 in third. Yet it was everything but a straightforward session. Anticipating the track temperatures for Sunday, Verstappen, Bottas and Hamilton all tried to make the Q2 cut on the medium compound. On his first attempt, Hamilton set a 1:32.085, but got his time deleted due to him going over the white line at Turn 18. Bottas and Verstappen set their times drama free, and could focus on preparing their Q3 shots. With only five minutes remaining for Q2, Hamilton was in the drop zone, along with Albon, Stroll, Vettel and Russell. The Briton was in the middle of another attempt to set a time on the medium compound, with Vettel ahead of him, when the latter crashed his car and triggered a red flag. The German driver left his car unharmed, and the stopwatch said there were only 2 minutes and 15 seconds remaining. Mercedes pitted their driver at risk for a set of soft, assuming that the outlap would be a mess given the few time left on the table, and a lot of traffic. Hamilton managed to cross the line 1.1s before the flag, to set a time that got him into Q3. Ultimately, we got to see the most common top 3 finish of the qualifying sessions of the season, with Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen.
Despite securing pole position, Hamilton faced an investigation for not rejoining the track at turn 2 according to the race direction rules. The Stewards determined that there was no advantage, as the relevant lap time was deleted, and as a result, no further action unfolded.
3. The FIA clarification about podium outfits
During the Tuscan grand prix, Lewis Hamilton wore on the podium a T-shirt advocating for the case of Breonna Taylor, a young black-american woman shot during a police raid. Following his gesture, the regulatory body of the sport put the matter "under active consideration", because the FIA is a non-political organisation and they were considering whether or not Hamilton's T-shirt broke its statutes. Ultimately, the FIA ruled out the investigation on Hamilton, but did issue a set of guidelines to clarify the post race procedure. The Director’s note said: “For the duration of the Podium Ceremony and Post Race Interview Procedure, the Drivers finishing in race in positions 1, 2, 3 must remain attired only in their Driving Suits, 'done up' to the neck, not opened to the waist. For the avoidance of doubt this includes a Medical Face Mask or Team Branded Face Mask”.
I guess it means drivers are free to wear advocating outfits before the race, or after it if they are not on the podium, subject to the cause being in adequation with the FIA statutes and values.
4. The start of the race
Expecting a greater thermal degradation on Sunday due to hotter temperatures compared to Friday and Saturday, Pirelli estimated that the fastest way to approach the 53-lap race would be a one-stopper. Start on the red soft tyre and then switch to the white hard after approximately 12 laps. The medium to hard combination was being estimated only third fastest. Hamilton was starting on softs, with his two followers on mediums. Unlike Pirelli, the teams seemed to think the optimum strategy was the latter. With that tyres offset, all was set for a great battle upfront. In the midfield, everybody but Leclerc were starting on the soft compound. Bottas knew from the qualifications that he was the best placed to get the tow from his team mate. He was starting on the clean side of the track, with a long run before the first braking zone in Turn 2.
At the lights out, Bottas got away well and immediately overtook Verstappen. Entering turn 2, he tried to go round the outside of Hamilton who managed to retain his lead, while Verstappen had to back out and went across the run-off area. That lost the Dutchman another place to Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo in Turn 4 but the Red Bull driver rejoined the track to fight back and reclaim third place in the following corner.
Further back Carlos Sainz was also forced to use the run-off in Turn 2 but the McLaren driver lost control and hit the barrier, breaking his front left suspension and scattering debris as he slid back onto the track. In the same sequence of events in Turn 4, the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc made contact with the Racing Point of Lance Stroll resulting in the Canadian to be bounced out of the race.
The race was resumed in lap six, behind a safety car way less dramatic than the one of Mugello two weeks ago.
5. The Hamilton's penalty
That was undoubtedly, the main talking point and the hottest topic of the race day. Before the start of the race, Hamilton performed two practice starts. He explained to his race engineer that there was too much rubber, and checked with him if he could practice his start further out, to the end of the pitwall, for which he got an affirmative response. Peter Bonnington - the said race engineer - clarified that he simply must try and leave room for cars to get past.
A look back at the time penalties incurred by polesitter Lewis Hamilton before lights out - which ended up changing the complexion of the Russian Grand Prix#RussianGP 🇷🇺 #F1 pic.twitter.com/3EZ43De2UB— Formula 1 (@F1) September 27, 2020
However, after practicing those two starts, the Briton found himself facing an investigation, the second of his russian weekend. The race direction was considering whether or not Hamilton infringed the article 19.1 of the Event notes, but also the article 36.1 of the FIA Formula 1 sporting regulations. The Stewards concluded the six-times world champion did breach those articles, so he was notified during the race, that he was to receive a double five-second penalty, with two penalty points on his licence, one for each infringement, to which he replied:
“I don’t think anyone’s had the penalty for that before.
“I would say from a driver’s point of view if you put someone else in danger, you crash into somebody, of course you should be getting penalty points.
“I did not harm anybody, I didn’t put anyone in harm’s way. So ultimately, it’s a ridiculous rule.
“But it is what it is. I’ll just make sure I’m squeaky clean moving forwards”
Both Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen expressed their disagreement about the penalty points. For the Dutchman:
“it's a bit harsh”
"If you cause a crash it's different, but the penalty Lewis got was already painful enough," Verstappen said after finishing second in Sochi, one place ahead of Hamilton.
"I mean, it was not correct where he stopped but penalty points for that, I'm not sure that's correct.
“He was penalised enough by having this penalty in the race, so I don't think you'd need to hand out penalty points for that”
Vettel mirrored Verstappen’s feelings:
"I think if you really do some crazy moves on the track and some dangerous driving, then they're justified," Vettel said.
"But if you're speeding in the pitlane or minor infringements, it's probably not the point to apply penalty points."
So what if we had a quick look at what the articles say?
19.1 Practice starts may only be carried on the right-hand side after the pit exit lights [...]. Drivers must leave adequate room on their left for another driver to pass
36.1 All drivers going to the pit exit at this time must do so at a constant speed and with constant throttle. This applies over the whole of the pit lane whether a driver is going to the pit exit from his garage or travelling through the pit lane between reconnaissance laps.
After being notified of the investigation, Mercedes’ team principal Toto Wolff, along with the team’s sporting director Ron Meadows, went to the Stewards’ office. According to Toto:
"There is no mention what the right place is in the director's note, nor is it in the regulations. So we disagree on that one. The race director's notes say, if I'm well-informed, that you must do practice starts after the lights on the right side of the pitlane. And that's what happened. The designated place, it says after the lights, at the right side. It does specify that the practice starts need to be done after the lights on the right side. And there was an argument that he gained an advantage by making the [practice starts] there, I think it was not an advantage because there was no grip, so much less grip than you would have on your starting positions”.
Regarding the breaching of the article 36.1, Toto stated: “The other one was not driving at constant speed in the reconnaissance laps, and there again, it's debatable”. In the absence of Hamilton’s telemetry, it would be difficult for us to affirm or infirm the team’s statement. We can however go through the breaching related to the practice starts.
If we go by the letter of it, the practice start, according to the 19.1 article, has been indeed carried on the right-hand side after the pit exit lights, and the drivers left room on his left for another driver to pass. So what led to the penalty? Well, according to the Stewards: ”on the right hand side” after the pit exit lights is not part of the track as defined by lines, which has been known to all competitors and used without exception. When asked about that loophole in the note’s wording, Michael MASI - the race director - said :
“I’d suggest that there was probably a miscommunication between the team and the driver because Valtteri [Bottas] and all the other drivers used the exact practice start location where it was immediately on the right after the pit exit lights.”
Masi also defended the lack of visual identification of the practice start area, saying “generally, we don’t paint a box, we just specify a location” and when asked if a painted box would help in the future, he replied: “It’s very much a circuit-specific element of where it is. Today was just a simple error from that perspective.”
So, in my humble opinion, the 19.1 should have said “Practice starts may only be carried on the right-hand side IMMEDIATELY after the pit exit lights” to leave absolutely no room for interpretation. Toto Wolff said his team disagreed with the Stewards decision to penalise Hamilton for something that was not specifically mentioned in the rule, when the race direction thought the common sense should have commanded them to do like the nineteen other drivers. Even if I would personally advocate for rules to be as specific as possible, so that drivers and teams are punished by the letter of it, at the end of the day, it’s up to the Stewards to decide whether or not they deemed the driver’s actions illegal. And both Hamilton and Mercedes put themselves in the position to rely on their discretionary arbitration. Ultimately, the Stewards revised their decision, and the penalty points which closed the British champion to a race ban were rescinded:
“because they thought it was inappropriate.
“Lewis followed his team’s instruction and, yes, it was him driving the car, however a contributing factor was his team instructed him to do so at that point
“On that basis the stewards have rescinded the penalty points on both those decisions
“As a result they have fined the team for that instruction.
“Therefore they saw it fit to revise their decision accordingly.”
6. The Stroll Leclerc incident
Since we are tackling the topic of the regulation, it would be interesting to have a look at the incident involving Lance Stroll and Charles Leclerc. As soon as the first lap of the race, the young Monegasque and the Racing Point drivers had had a contact, which resulted in the Canadian being out of the race. Lance Stroll said about the incident that it was "ridiculous" that Charles Leclerc wasn't penalised for their first-lap contact. The Canadian added:
"I'm quite surprised he didn't get a penalty"
"I gave him plenty of room, I did the whole corner on the outside, and he just tagged my right-rear. I gave him all the room I could and it was unlucky.
"But he could have avoided it, he didn't have to run so wide into me. It's kind of ridiculous he didn't get a penalty."
Leclerc defended himself by saying he had understeered into Stroll due to the loss of grip behind Sergio Perez.
That crash between the two drivers is very reminiscent of another incident in Austria, involving Lewis Hamilton and Alexander Albon, as you can see in the following tweet posted by JOHN DOE @f1rtp.
Hamilton penalizado este ano por toque com Albon.— ▄▀▄▀ 𝗥𝗧𝗣 Mu̷n̷d̷i̷a̷l̷ ̷ F͓̽1͓̽ ▄▀▄▀ (@f1rtp) September 27, 2020
Leclerc não foi penalizado por toque em Stroll, hoje.
Diferentes critérios? pic.twitter.com/iz4ebANhoD
Of course, one can argue it was the first lap of the race but still, there are a lot of similarities between the two incidents. It raised once more, the issue of the consistency in the way drivers are penalised. They have been particularly vocal about their pledge for consistency over the past two years. Hamilton has been penalised for a similar move in Austria, yet in Russia the incident was noted by the stewards, but no further action was deemed necessary. I will even push my luck by reminding Leclerc driving 2 laps unfastened at Monza, with no action from the race direction.
7. The podium and the race results
After two hectic races, F1 fans finally get their customary HAMILTON - BOTTAS - VERSTAPPEN podium (in order of appearance in the championship ranking) back. Valtteri Bottas took the lead of the race after Hamilton’s pitstop, and he never looked back. He managed his tyres to preserve the Mercedes invincibility record at the russian venue. The Dutchman kept him honest, by ending 7s behind him in P2. After having served his penalty, Hamilton made a recovery drive to complete a double podium for the silver arrows team.
Behind the podium sitters, Sergio Perez was the best driver of the rest. Despite his initial crash with Stroll, Charles Leclerc did a brilliant drive, and brought home his SF1000 in P6, intercalated between the Renault of Ricciardo in 5th and Ocon in 7th places. The local hero Daniil Kvyat ranked P8, one place ahead of his team mate Pierre Gasly in 9th. Alex Albon bagged the last point available with a 10th place.
8. F1 gossip
A video circulated Sunday on various media platforms, stating that Mika Salo, one of the race Stewards, would have allegedly leaked to a Finnish reporter named Juusela, the result of the investigation on Hamilton, before it was officially announced by the authorized channels. The said video was a voice recording with english subtitles of supposedly the Finnish reporter, giving the information of Hamilton’s penalty, before the official announcement during the race. Whether that leaking is true or not, it is crucial for the FIA to ensure the integrity and the confidentiality of this kind of information, which can be used with malicious intents, such as cases of betting fraud.