Recent rule clarifications prompted by Max Verstappen’s driving led to Sebastian Vettel’s post-race penalty at the Mexican Grand Prix, FIA race director Charlie Whiting confirmed.
Whiting has had several discussions with drivers during the course of the year on the subject of drivers moving under braking. These were prompted by Verstappen’s incidents with Kimi Raikkonen in Hungary and Lewis Hamilton in Japan.
Speaking in today’s FIA press conference Whiting described how the clarifications in the rules led to Vettel’s penalty for his incident with Daniel Ricciardo in Mexico.
“I think it might be helpful to go back to Hungary where there we tow incidents involving Kimi and Max,” said Whiting. “This was thoroughly discussed during the drivers’ meeting in Germany and the consensus of opinion was that moving under braking was something that should not be done.”
“We agreed with this and then we had the incident with Max and Lewis in Japan where the first thing Lewis said on the radio was ‘he moved when we were braking’.”
Mercedes protested Verstappen’s move against Hamilton in Japan but later withdrew it. According to Whiting the stewards had already “looked at it after the race” but “felt there wasn’t a case to answer”.
However the Japan incident “gave rise to a lengthy discussion in the drivers’ meeting in Austin”, which led to a final clarification on the rules, according to Whiting.
“I then issued what was a clarification of existing regulations to say what we felt should be reported to the stewards. And with that as the backdrop Mexico was really the first race where that rule was applied.”
“There are three fundamental points there within the rules: If a driver has to take evasive action, if a driver makes an abnormal change of direction in the braking zone and if it could be deemed to be potentially dangerous to another driver.”
“If those three conditions are satisfied then the stewards felt that was a dangerous move and should be penalised. So that’s how the stewards looked at it and they felt that Sebastian had moved under braking, that was very clear from the data, also clear from the video of course, it was potentially dangerous and it was an abnormal change of direction which could have led to an accident.”
Describing new footage of the incident from the track camera at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Whiting said: “You can see very clearly that both cars are on the left of the track, Sebastian moves to the right then in the braking zone moves to the left and you can see quite clearly that Daniel had to take evasive action.”
“Had Daniel’s right-front hit Sebastian’s left-rear it would have been a significantly different scenario and that’s what the stewards looked at. It was a potentially dangerous situation.”
Whiting added the stewards considered Vettel’s tangle with Ricciardo was a more serious infringement than Verstappen cutting turn one while battling the Ferrari driver, hence his more severe penalty.
“I don’t think it was actually dangerous”
Ricciardo said he appreciated that fans “don’t want to wait so long after the race to have an outcome” but said he agreed with the decision.
“When you’re in that braking zone once you’re committed, especially when you’re overtaking and you’re putting the car on the limit trying to out-brake someone, you’re already on the edge. And then any sort of move or something you’re not really in control.”
“Hence why I locked up the brake and it all turned into a bit of the mess. It’s the only real part where, it’s not that we’re not in control, but we can’t get out as much. When you’re on the straight if someone defends, if they move one way you can move the other. But once you’re committed to the braking it’s hard to pull out of that move.”
However Vettel said his defensive moves were within the rules and denied the incident was as dangerous as had been claimed.
“Obviously I don’t agree with the decision that was made,” said the Ferrari driver. “I moved over once to defend my position, after that I think I gave Daniel enough room on the inside, I kept the car straight for more than the majority of the braking.”
“I think the reason why Daniel locked up so bad is because there was no grip on the inside and it’s something that I think we all knew. There were people locking up in other corners when they were off-line.”
“So I think it actually looks a bit worse than it was, I don’t think it was actually dangerous for Daniel at that point.”