What occurred last Sunday in Russia was not new to the stewards, as Charles Leclerc's investigation document from Spa recounts.
Lewis Hamilton has just returned from an extremely trying Russian GP, at which he failed to equal Michael Schumacher’s coveted record of 91 career wins in Formula 1. The Briton was hindered by a double penalty triggered by illegal practice start procedures, resulting in 10s served during his first pit-stop.
The sanction initially came with two penalty points, later dropped as the FIA amended their decision after hearing from the team. According to Mercedes, Hamilton performed his practice start outside of the designated area after following the team’s erroneous indications.
The FIA statements read: “The driver performed the practice start near the end, but directly in the pit exit. Art 36.1requires drivers to use constant throttle and constant speed in the pit exit other than inthe place designated for practice starts in the Event Notes item 19.1., which is defined as the place ”on the right hand side” after the pit exit lights (and is not part of the track as defined by lines) which has been known to all competitors and used without exception”.
Point 19 of the Stewards’ Event Notes regarding the Russian GP states that “Practice starts may only be carried out on the right-hand side after the pit exit lights and, for the avoidance of doubt, this includes any time the pit exit is open for the race”.
Without any footage accompanying the explanation nor any further clarification concerning the ‘legal spot’, the rule appears rather vague and open to interpretation.
Digging down deep through the previous races, an interesting case emerges from the Belgian GP. Charles Leclerc is in the eye of the storm here, being involved in a similar dynamic, yet the whole issue was hidden by a different motive behind the investigation. Let’s delve into it.
On August 30th, Leclerc ended up in the radar of the Federation, accused of driving unnecessarily slowly. No further action was guaranteed for the following reason, as written in the document promptly retrieved by our editor Sarah Otele.
“The Race Director’s Note to Teams specified a maximum time of 2:04.0 between the Safety Car lines and car 16 recorded a time of 2:06.087. However, the Team advised that the driver had crossed SC2 line hence triggering the timing for the lap, then stopped for approximately 12 seconds to perform a practice start, then completed the Reconnaissance Lap. This was independently verified by the Stewards from the on board video of Car 16. Accordingly, no breach was determined to have occurred”.
A practice start surfaces, although the investigation was strictly linked to the slow driving matter. Looking at the Belgian GP Event Notes, more information is provided about practice starts.
“18.1 During each practice session, practice starts may only be carried out on the right-hand side after leaving the pit lane. These must be done prior to the SC2 line and with all four wheels between the white line on the right-hand edge of the pit exit and the wall. (the area bordered by black in the photograph on page 6).
18.2 During the time the pit exit is open for the race, practice starts may be carried out on the track after the pit exit before the SC2 line. Drivers wishing to carry out a practice start should stop wholly within the pit exit in order to allow other cars to pass on their left (the area bordered by red in the photograph on page 6). During this time any driver passing a car which has stopped to carry out a practice start may cross the white line that is referred to in 19.1 below”.
Comparing the two events’ notes, it becomes clear that Charles Leclerc performed a practice start out of the designated area, as he did it metres away from the SC2 line. However, the practice start issue was not noted by the FIA nor it was investigated, inevitably prompting the perpetuous debate on clarity over the rules.
Perhaps the matter was not discussed thoroughly at the drivers’ briefing at Sochi, but the difference between the indications provided in Belgium and Russia stands out. Document-wise, the information was precise and punctual on the former, extremely vague on the latter. It has to be the FIA's duty to ensure that no double standards are applied, by firstly offering transparent directives and guidelines on the sporting regulations.