Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Interlagos, 2018

Why the “scary” Hamilton-Sirotkin near-miss in Brazil wasn’t investigated

2018 Brazilian Grand Prix

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The high-speed near-miss between Lewis Hamilton and Sergey Sirotkin during qualifying at Interlagos initially looked like a slam-dunk penalty for the Mercedes driver.

Sirotkin caught Hamilton quickly and swerved onto the grass as the Mercedes driver made a late attempt to clear a path for the Williams. While it appeared Hamilton had held up a driver who was attempting to set a lap time, it soon emerged this wasn’t the case.

What at first looked like a classic case of ‘impeding’ turned out to be something else, as FIA race director Charlie Whiting explained at the end of the weekend.

“It looked a bit scary I admit,” he said. “But the predominant factor is both drivers were on out-laps.”

At Interlagos, the long flat-out climb to the start/finish line means most drivers prepare the begin their flying laps at the same point on the track between Mergulho (turn 11) and Juncao (tur n12), where Sirotkin caught Hamilton.

“Drivers tend to do all their preparation before turn 12, go slowly into turn 12 and then accelerate hard out of turn 12,” Whiting explained. “You can see the all bunching up when they go out, even in [first practice] for example they’ll bunch up there, then they let that go, then the next card goes, this sort thing. I understand that Lewis was doing that.

Hamilton correctly assumed Sirotkin was on an out-lap. However he was not aware Sirotkin was running on a used set of tyres and therefore having to push harder to increase temperature.

“[Hamilton] was told that Sergey was behind him. But he was on an out-lap so Lewis was thinking, ‘OK, we’re fine here, I can do my usual routine, get a gap to the car in front’.

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“Sergey felt the need to go a lot faster because apparently there’s a problem with tyre blankets. He was coming through turn 11 flat-out. Obviously Lewis saw him coming and thought it was a car on a fast lap the team didn’t tell him about. So he went to move over to let him through and Sergey had already committed left. And that was the reason for the incident.”

Sergey Sirotkin, Williams, Interlagos, 2018
Sirotkin saw no need for the stewards to get involved
Whiting believed the incident was “just a misunderstanding – I looked because it was clear immediately to me what had happened and no one had done anything wrong.”

While Whiting does not rule on incidents, he has the power to refer them to the stewards. Teams can also raise protests if they choose to. However Sirotkin was also of the view Hamilton had done nothing wrong and said he wasn’t surprised there was no investigation.

“It’s very normal, it’s just been quite a unique situation which you never really find,” said Sirotkin. He downplayed the incident, stressing Hamilton “saw me in the last moment and I think he tried to give me room”.

Sirotkin wasn’t the only driver who encountered Hamilton on the racing line during the session. Kimi Raikkonen also dodged around the Mercedes driver. This too was not investigated.

Out of the seven accusations of impeding which were investigated this year, only three led to sanctions, and just one of those received a grid penalty. The stance taken by the stewards indicates they are unlikely to take action unless a driver has been significantly held up by a rival while trying to set a lap time.

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Impeding investigations in 2018

There have been seven investigations of alleged impeding this year, three of which have resulted in sanctions.

RoundSessionDriver responsibleDriver impededVerdictStewards’ explanation
AustraliaSecond practiceKimi RaikkonenValtteri BottasNo actionBoth drivers agreed that there was a limited sight line to the rear at turn three, and there was a closing speed of over 100kph between car 77 and car 7. Raikkonen had a very limited time to react to the car behind him. While Raikkonen clearly impeded Bottas, and while Raikkonen was not positioned where Bottas expected him to be, the stewards determined that Raikkonen did make a reasonable attempt to cede the apex of the corner and both drivers agreed that it was not unnecessary impeding. Therefore the stewards take no further action.
AzerbaijanQualifyingSergey SirotkinMarcus EricssonNo actionThe separation of the two cars at Turn 7 was not small enough to establish a case for unnecessary impeding in what is the slowest corner on the circuit. It was noted that the driver of car 9 aborted his fast lap out of Turn 7.
SpainFirst practiceKevin MagnussenCharles LeclercReprimandThe driver explained that he had received a yellow flag at Turn 10 and had aborted his lap. He was unaware that the flag had cleared and that the driver of Car 16 who was immediately behind him had not aborted his lap as he had not been in the sector when it was yellow. The stewards accepted this explanation and found that there was not a case of Unnecessarily Impeding, and therefore not a breach of Art 31.5. However, the stewards reviewed the maneuver of Car 20 at the entry to Turn 1, where the driver of Car 20 moved to the right in front of Car 16 which was overtaking at the time. While the cars avoided a collision, the stewards deemed the maneuver to be potentially dangerous and unnecessary, and therefore a breach of Art. 27.4
FranceQualifyingKimi RaikkonenKevin MagnussenNo actionThere is no doubt that the “push” lap of car 20 was thwarted by the proximity of Car 7 which overtook car 20 just after it had started the lap. This was the last opportunity for each driver to achieve a fast lap in Q3. The stewards noted that the driver of car 20 was unsure of the intentions of the driver of car 7 during the last half of the previous lap, where car 20 was on an “out” lap and car 7 had aborted a push lap. Car 7 did slow towards the end of that lap but when compared to a previous out lap in Q3, there was a similar pattern of slowing in the same area. The stewards are not of the view that the driver of car 7 “unnecessarily impeded” car 20 (refer Article 31.5 of the Formula One Sporting Regulations). In addition, the stewards do not consider that the driver of car 7 drove “unnecessarily slowly” (refer Appendix L Chapter IV Article 2e of the International Sporting Code. Despite the negative effect the incident had on the lap of car 20, the stewards decline to take any further action.
AustriaQualifyingSebastian VettelCarlos Sainz JnrThree-place grid drop, one penalty pointCar 5 had just finished a push lap and was on an in lap, travelling quite slowly into and around turn 1, on the racing line. The driver conceded that he had passed car 55 between turns 7 and 8 but assumed it had pitted after. However, car 55 was actually commencing a push lap and closed on car 5 rapidly along the pit straight and into turn 1. During evidence, the driver of car 55 stated that he felt the driver of car 5 was completely unaware of his approach. This was confirmed by the driver of car 5 who stated he was unable to see car 55 in his mirrors and that his team had not informed him of its approach, by radio. The latter was confirmed by the team representative. It is the belief of the stewards that notwithstanding the absence of a radio call, the driver of car 5, being aware of the issue of rear vision with his mirrors, should not have been so slow and on the racing line, during a slowdown lap in Qualification. Having reviewed all alleged impeding incidents since the beginning of 2016, the penalty of a drop of 3 grid positions is consistent with all other similar incidents.
HungaryQualifyingMax VerstappenRomain GrosjeanNo actionVerstappen was on a fast lap but then caught Gasly early in the lap. He then aborted the lap. Grosjean who was on a fast lap, was catching Verstappen. He was six seconds behind at Turn 11 and four seconds behind at Turn 13. Verstappen was close to Gasly going into Turn 13. At this point Gasly set up for his flying lap and Verstappen in turn slowed to get a gap. Grosjean caught Verstappen between Turn 13 and Turn 14 which impeded Grosjean. While Verstappen was given reasonable, if slightly delayed information by his team, the stewards took into account that with the very wet conditions, there was limited visibility ahead, and no visibility behind the drivers. The gaps between Gasly, Verstappen and Grosjean changed over a very short section of the track, and under the conditions the stewards determined that the impeding was not, as the rule states, “unnecessary impeding” and therefore take no further action.
JapanFirst practicePierre GaslyLewis HamiltonReprimandOn approaching Turn 16, car No 10 slowed down significantly on the racing line. Car 44 was approaching at racing speed on a hot lap and had to take evasive action to avoid car 10. The driver of car No 10 admitted that he impeded car 44 and acknowledged that he ought to have stayed on the right hand side of the track and had left it too late to move off the racing line. As this occurred in Free Practice, we imposed a reprimand on the driver of car No 10

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2018 F1 season

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33 comments on “Why the “scary” Hamilton-Sirotkin near-miss in Brazil wasn’t investigated”

  1. Thanks for the insight. These decisions are not always clear-cut.

  2. Sirotkin wasn’t the only driver who encountered Hamilton on the racing line during the session. Kimi Raikkonen also dodged around the Mercedes driver. This too was not investigated

    To be fair to Hamilton in the Sirotkin incident, the reason that he moved left was because this was away from the racing line. I think it was just a misunderstanding

    1. He was on the racing line, so every move would have that effect. Left was a bad choice looking at the path of SIR.

  3. Things like this should always be investigated. Not just to determine if a penalty is warranted but to see if things can be changed for the better.

    1. Indeed. However the stewards simply investigate whether rules were broken they do not do in depth investigations into F1 in general. I assume there is some sort of working group that looks into future changes.

  4. Given how slowly drivers need to drive on the out/in laps with the current tyres due to how finicky they are & how they need to be prepared & how quickly they can fall off on the hot lap at times I almost feel like we need drivers to be told that if there not on a hot lap they must move & stay off the racing line.

    With the amount of times you see drivers just cruising around super, super, super slowly on the racing line or in the middle of the track in qualifying & practice sessions the past 2 years i’ve been amazed we haven’t seen situations like this more often.

    1. Doing your outlap off the racing line is a great way to pick up marbles and debris. Excellent strategy.

    2. There’s quite a lot going on when you consider you’ve got 20 cars spread over 4 or 5 kilometres all with different speeds. That’s an average of 1 car per 200 – 250 metres or so. If, on the other hand, you split the Q1 sessions, so each team sends one car into each session. That means an average of one car per 400 – 500 metres. This would mean a lower probability of an incident such as this one. Maybe that would make it easier for “slow” drivers to keep out of the path of “fast” drivers. Liberty Media want to make Qualifying a 4 session event, and this would be one of achieving it. I guess that would place a slight advantage to the drivers who drive second… except when the weather conditions are deteriorating … but I guess that’s a problem for Number One drivers to worry about.

  5. Entirely understandable decision all things considered.

    1. It’s a safety concern. Yes it is understandable considering there’s no break of the rules here. But I still think that it’s been a very dangerous moment and should therefore be clarified within the rules and be penalised in the future. Not the driver though, a fine for the team should be reasonable.

  6. I don’t care who the drivers were, but a near miss should have some clear rules as well. It can’t be just because both were on an out-lap that it’s OK to (almost) hit each other.

    I’d expect that when you are going slow (including out and in-lap) you should stay off the racing line as much as possible and always give preference to any driver at full speed.

    1. I agree, but someone didnt get hurt in a “freak accident” here so they dont need to do any safetywork.

      1. I disagree, we can’t keep layering legislation on top of legislation. They are cars, moving at different speeds and things like this can happen. Nobody was at fault, both did their best to avoid making it any worse than it was.

        If we start making rules around this incident, then I fear we’ll go into a rabbit hole of rules which will create more problems. I like Gary Anderson’s ‘parking sensors’ lights inside the halo that show if a car is approaching at speed behind you and from what side they’ll approach you on. That’s easy enough and cheap enough to do, i’d rather that than us getting the rulebook out every time.

        1. @bernasaurus Theres no need to make rules just investigate and make teams aware that they need to stay out of the way when driving slow. Its common sense and sometimes people needs to be reminded.

    2. Don’t be sensible, who likes reasoned decisions really?

      As long as you are on a out lap you can create an accident and as long as you are behind the SC you can cross the pitlane line (and grass) without a problem.

      Considering those mitigating factor I’m baffled why Vettel got a penalty in baku, weren’t they behind the SC? Crash into another driver should be allowed

      1. What was I thinking, @johnmilk.

        I hope I didn’t ruin your aniversario. Have a feliz one ;)

        1. Thanks @coldfly, congrats on your COTD, that’s the real important stuff

    3. Yea, just put your foot down on the warm up lap, and the guy in front who is just about to start his qually lap has to dive out of the way. The guy behind gets preference because he is going faster?

      1. @riptide ofc he gets preference, unless you intend to race him?

    4. You can’t drive your out lap off the racing line as you would be severely compromised for your fast lap. Hamilton was not going abnormally slow it was just that Sirotkin was going abnormally fast for an outlap. Perhaps the answer it for a message to be sent to other teams when you are going to be doing a speed that is far different than would normally be expected. That way people can be ready. If Merc were aware of Sirotkins issue then they would be able to tell Hamilton to get out of the way in time.

  7. To those that say that an outlap should be done mainly outside the racing line, you have to take into consideration that in many circuits driving outside the racing line will result in tires full of dirt and dust and marbles that take up to a full lap to clear. Not Ideal for a hotlap afterward…

    1. @vaiosp
      They can go wherever they want when they warm the tyres but keep watch for faster cars from behind. Its extreamly simple. And they have a 200man team wtaching the track so they really got no excuse.

      1. So when two cars are both on a warm up lap, the car behind can completely ruin the lead drivers run by going faster; in which case the lead driver has to get out the way?

        1. @riptide Yes. They are in fact swapping places alot on the warmuplaps between faster and slower cars.

          1. So in this particular case Hamilton has to give up his prime start spot which he has spent all his out lap preparing for to for the guy behind; and start his qually lap off line and on the marbles. So at the next race Hamilton can set the fastest qually time on his first run, and then sit behind his nearest competitor on the second run; and completely destroy that guys run by going faster on the last bit of their out lap.

            A qually lap doesnt start at the start line, it starts a corner or two before. And you are now saying if you are the guy behind on the out lap, just put the hammer down at the last few corners, and ruin the qually lap of the guy in front. Yea, that’ll work.

            And yes there is a lot of swopping of places on the out lap. And on every occasion if you want to get in front you go off line to overtake the guy in front. Unless you are proposing that 19 drivers spend their out laps looking in their mirrors to try to second guess what the guy behind is doing.

          2. hi ian – I think this is the most sensible post on this thread.

  8. The stance taken by the stewards indicates they are unlikely to take action unless a driver has been significantly held up by a rival while trying to set a lap time.

    Which was the case here as Sirotkins avoiding action ruined his chance of setting a good lap time.

    1. But Sirotkin had an issue and so no one was expecting him to be going so fast. Hamilton acted entirely the same way every driver would have done. When he realised something was wrong he did attempt to get out of the way.

  9. Since these types of incidents during practice and qualifying are so potentially dangerous, and are not that uncommon, maybe some GPS/electronic in-car warnings should be explored.

    I was thinking of something along the lines of a slow traffic “close-proximity” signal device in the cars, either on the steering wheel or in-helmet audio, similar to what airplanes use. It would only be activated during non-race track activity, and could be keyed to send a signal when a certain set closing speed and proximity is exceeded between cars.

    Counting on mirrors and eyesight, especially in blind curves, during times when very slow and very fast cars are sharing the track is not enough.

    1. SOOOOOO MANY safety Susan’s… this is auto racing, go back to competitive sewing if you want something 100% safe.

      I trust the stewards on this one.

  10. What about the Rai one?

  11. Odd how we never needed all these investigations 20-30 years ago with grids of 26+ cars, sometimes all on the circuit going for a time.

    Same with drivers screaming on the radio if another driver dare waft their dirty air within 100 metres of a driver on a hotlap. Just let them get on with it!

  12. How could they ever dream of investigating Him?

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