Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2020

The stewards’ U-turn and Hamilton’s 11th-hour grid penalty explained

2020 Austrian Grand Prix

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Three-and-a-half hours after the chequered flag fell on Saturday’s qualifying session, the stewards announced Lewis Hamilton had been cleared of failing to slow down under yellow flags at the end of Q3.

Barely 40 minutes before the start of Sunday’s race, the stewards announced they’d changed their minds. Hamilton was slapped with a grid penalty, and teams shuffled their hardware on the dummy grid as the number 44 Mercedes was shunted back three spots while Max Verstappen, Lando Norris and Alexander Albon all moved forwards.

Why did the stewards change their verdict, and why did it take so long? Events were set in motion just after midnight local time at the circuit, when Formula 1 published 360-degree video footage from Hamilton’s car on social media.

This proved valuable new evidence for Red Bull. A technical glitch deprived viewers of footage from Hamilton’s regular onboard camera on his final Q3 run.

“After it was pointed out to us on social media that there was a different camera angle, the 360 [degree] camera showed very clearly there was a yellow light box that had been driven through,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

Vettel got Verstappen and Albon ahead of Hamilton
Late last year, Max Verstappen lost pole position in Mexico for failing to slow for a yellow flag (which, coincidentally, was also triggered by Valtteri Bottas).

“It only seemed consistent with Mexico,” said Horner. “So we asked the FIA to have another look at it. They said they hadn’t seen that footage previously. So for whatever reason, they hadn’t had the access or hadn’t looked at that camera.

“Having looked at that, and reviewed it, it then became a very clear decision for them.”

FIA race director Michael Masi admitted the stewards “didn’t have onboard footage from Lewis’s car” when they made the original decision.

“When we were made aware [on Sunday], quite late in the piece, by Red Bull that there was some additional new evidence available.”

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The 360-degree format footage involves too much data for footage to be streamed from the cars, so it is downloaded from them between sessions. Masi said the FIA has spoken to FOM about how it can access the material more readily in future.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2020
Unseen footage proved Hamilton was at fault
“Obviously, it’s not something it’s available live due to bandwidth,” he said. “It needs to be downloaded off the car, processed, et cetera.”

Under F1’s right of review rules, the new material had to be submitted by an interested party – e.g. a rival team – in order for the original investigation to be reappraised.

“There’s been some misquotation that it was a ‘protest’ from Red Bull. It wasn’t actually a protest. It was a question that they raised of: ‘Is this a new and significant element?’

“Which is why there was actually two separate decisions. That’s why the first decision is: Is it a new and significant element? The stewards determined that, yes, it was.

“Then, obviously, they went into a hearing as a result of that and determined that, effectively, if they’d had that footage [on Saturday], they would have deemed and came to the same decision they did prior to the race.”

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37 comments on “The stewards’ U-turn and Hamilton’s 11th-hour grid penalty explained”

  1. There was a big difference in behaviour of drivers post breaking of rule.

  2. I get the impression that lately the stewards have something in their eyes when Lewis has to come forward. “Didn’t see it”

    Last year at German GP they failed to give him a drive through for cutting the track and driving into the pits as well.

    1. Speaking of missing things, stewards didnt see Unsafe release for Perez.

      1. Under the motto “No Crash, No Unsafe Release”…

        You would have thought that after the Bianchi incident upholding regulations that are there for safety would be held in higher regard.

  3. Seems weird that the stewards would not be able to download the footage from the car in 3½ hours. Come to think of it, shouldn’t this be mandatory to have all the possible footage for the decision; and something that is rather easy to enforce (i.e. “the competitors summoned to the stewards must also bring with them, on a nice USB stick or another medium, the 360 footage from the car 10 seconds before and after the incident” or something like that)?

    1. The first thing I thought when the question of whether he drove through yellows came up, was to check the in-car footage. That shows you what the driver could have seen much better than camera’s next to the track. It seems rather weird that the stewards wouldn’t ask for this right away.

      Also, did Mercedes intentionally wait as long as they could to give the footage to Formula 1? That Formula 1 released the footage so late even though it was the topic of much debate, suggests that they might not have had the footage until late that day.

    2. also doesn’t explain why it then took until 40mins pre race for the stewards to review the new video. Why was that not the first thing on the agenda?

  4. Jose Lopes da Silva
    6th July 2020, 10:17

    The current qualifying system, which two-thirds of F1 fans support, again showed its flaws. Having everyone packed doing their laps results in:
    – we don’t see their laps live because the camera (and our brain) can only focus on one of them;
    – if someone goes off (if we have 10 cars out simultaneously, the odds are high!) and everyone is packed, the odds of everyone having their laps ruined for yellow flags are also high;
    – otherwise, we start this sterile thing: so, it was Bottas who went off on purpose, like Schumacher-Monaco-06 and Rosberg-Monaco-14? Or not? Hamilton did not see the yellow flag? Or did he? And the stewards attitude towards either of the drivers? Who are they protecting (because no one believes they are just doing their job)?

    Not being possible the 1996-2002 system (which kept the sport’s spirit), I’d rather have the qualifying race instead of this.

    1. Agree, apart from a qualifying race. Low weight cars and drivers on maximum attack is one of the most brilliant parts of the sport.
      The only system that works is 1 hour of qualification. MotoGP proves time and time again that there is nothing wrong with the format of weekend or of the sessions the way it has been for the last decades.
      The problem of F1 is the technical formula of the car. They haven’t gotten it right in decades.

      1. Jose Lopes da Silva
        6th July 2020, 10:41

        I would gladly take the 1-hour system right now.

      2. Jose Lopes da Silva
        6th July 2020, 10:48

        “Low weight cars and drivers on maximum attack is one of the most brilliant parts of the sport.”

        I totally agree. Someone told me that, if I can’t see the qualifying runs because all the cars are out at the same time and we can focus only on one, I should buy something from ITV and watch all the qualifying runs later. Some F1 fans don’t care for “Low weight cars and drivers on maximum attack” anymore. They prefer to see all the cars ‘racing’ closely and try to guess who will be the quicker.

    2. WHy is 1996-2002 system not possible?
      It was the absolute best.

      1. They could maybe take a leaf out of Indycar’s rule book and penalise the driver who caused the yellow flag if it ruined others’ laps.
        My vote is for single lap qualifying, maybe just for the top 8 or something. But if that’s not happening, at least consider moving the qualifying timing line to before the pit entrance, as Indycar do, as it removes the danger of cars going slowly round on their in lap. There is no significant disadvantage to this. But they’ll wait for a massive accident and then maybe consider it instead.

        1. Jose Lopes da Silva
          7th July 2020, 5:49

          “moving the qualifying timing line to before the pit entrance, as Indycar do” seems a good idea to me. Purists would say that it’s an artificial gimmick, but today even purists say they are cool with the current qualifying system…

      2. Jose Lopes da Silva
        7th July 2020, 5:47

        Because apparently two-thirds of F1 fans enjoy the current system. I hint people would start scrolling their social media feeds as soon as there was one minute of no track action. People need a rush of adrenaline every two minutes.

    3. To be honest, in the pre 2003 system you would have 22-26 rushing on track simultaneaously during the last two minutes of the session. That’s not much more practical than the 10 you have now.

  5. Jose Lopes da Silva
    6th July 2020, 10:19

    People complain that a qualifying race would not be true sport, but putting Hamilton on 5th a few minutes before the race was not true sport. It turned out as a gimmick.

  6. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
    6th July 2020, 11:08

    Something that still doesn’t ad up is this:

    Hamilton had his first time deleted. According to the rules, that makes sense. According to what they have now worked out he broke the rules again doing what would have been his only time. Had he not “broken the rules”, he would have had to lift off and likely would have qualified 10th. By breaking the rules and getting himself 2nd fastest but with the addition of a 3 place grid penalty, he was still better off breaking the rules.

    This really does get confusing sometimes. Hamilton benifitted from completing his time and getting the penalty compared to doing what he should have.

  7. Who, Mercedes? To investigate why Bottas slowed down so much. Or the stewards to investigate Hamilton for slowing down, but not as much as Bottas? Unless you think the McLaren of Norris turned into a rocket ship that it was faster than a Hamilton/Mercedes combination at full chat in the last part of the lap.

  8. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    6th July 2020, 13:52

    How accurate is the 360 footage? If footage from the actual cameras doesn’t provide enough evidence, then looking at composite footage could be misleading.

    This also opens the door for any team to re-open any case. In fact, had Red Bull brought this evidence post-race, wouldn’t Lewis have had to be disqualified as he had started at the wrong spot on the grid?

    1. I posted this comment in an earlier article raining a similar point..

      Is it possible that hamilton may not have seen the yellow flag screen on the left? (For the split second it was up?) Or more importantly that it could have been out of his vision from within the cockpit?… because of course the footage is from a movable camera, with a wide lense..

      1. There is a yellow flag indicator inside the car as well as audio in the drivers ear. He doesn’t have to look around the track for yellow flags.

      2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        6th July 2020, 15:25

        Lol, I just posted a comment saying I missed the flag when I first watched the 360 video and I knew there was a flag and I was looking for it…

        You’re absolutely right, his helmet doesn’t provide a 360 view and drivers should not be expected to be turning their heads left and right to see if a yellow flag is flashing.

        Actually the flag that should have been flashing is the one before the turn which is very hard to miss. Once in the turn with dust and the driver paying attention to the road and making sure that he doesn’t collide into Bottas, it’s very possible to miss that flag and might even be the right choice for a driver who was so close to the other driver.

        It’s like the tire that flew off Raikonnen’s car. Should Vettel have avoided the tire or paid attention to yellow flags? Unless the flag is next to the tire, then Vettel has every right to only check the trajectory of the tire and save his life and Raikonnen’s.

        1. Nevertheless, there was more than enough time for his team to spot it and tell him to abandon the lap.

        2. Absolutely, certainly a very different incident to Mexico last year with verstappen.

          Infact the yellow was only displayed after hamilton had already exited the corner. It also barely lasted. Was green again before Hamilton reached the final sector Hamilton had already passed Bottas within 2 seconds of the yellow coming out. Bottas was far removed. Neither was he stationary.

          Add these points to the ones you and I nmentioned and now its actually seeming to be a bit of a knee jerk reaction from the stewards just so that they could issue something quickly due to a lack of time before the start of the race

  9. Just to clarify why they didn’t have onboard footage from Hamilton’s car until Sunday morning.

    The T-cam on Hamilton’s car failed during qualifying so they were unable to get any footage from his car during Q3. As such at the time of the stewards investigation there was no onboard footage available.

    As the article says the 360 camera every car has on top of the chassis ahead of the Halo doesn’t broadcast live so footage has to be downloaded later. I gather that this isn’t done until Saturday evening due to cars going through scrutineering straight after qualifying as well as FOM shifting focus to the support race that take place shortly after F1 qualifying.
    Also consider that they have less staff on site now anyway & that those who are on site are those considered essential to the live broadcasts. In the past they would have had additional personnel on site who would have been available to retrieve the data while the F2 race was taking place.

    The footage was downloaded shortly after the F2 race had ended & was edited for a video put on the F1 website late Saturday but at this point it was too late for it to be reviewed by the stewards until Sunday morning which I think happened after the 3 support races which is why the decision was fairly late.


    On a side note I also gather that they were plagued by technical issues over the weekend both at the track as well as at Biggin Hill. They aren’t running a full operation on top of having to get used to using new systems (With a fraction of the staff they would normally have both on site & at Biggin Hill) as Liberty decided to shift away from the TATA network systems that F1 have been using for about a decade (And didn’t want to move away from) to Amazon AWS services.

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      6th July 2020, 14:59

      Thanks for sharing the link for the video. Actually, it’s not that easy to see the yellow flag as it’s behind the smoke and it’s on the other side of the driver’s line of sight (it’s on the left as you turn right).

      If you pause the footage, zoom in and augment the contrast, it’s very clear as F1 is showing there but I can see most drivers not seeing the yellow flag.

      I didn’t see it the first time:-) I was looking at the cloud of smoke on the road as I’m sure Lewis was too. Once I realized that it was on the left, I did see it on the replay.

      Once you know where the flag is, you can definitely see it on the replay and it’s impossible to miss. This is almost a VAR situation. If you look at something in slow motion from 360 degrees then just about every driver in F1 would 4 points in every race. Once 3 refs tell you that it’s a likely penalty that you missed, every ref has given a penalty.

      I think the stewards could have upheld their original decision despite pressure from Red Bull.

  10. Derek Edwards
    6th July 2020, 14:27

    I must be missing something here, but is it not possible to ascertain the time at which a marshall post begins showing a yellow flag signal and then correlate this with the position of each car on the track?

  11. For some reason, Red Bull seems to consider a wise tactic to appeal to the stewards for any littleness, in order to gain an advantage.
    Of course, rules allow for that, so it’s fine.
    Just very, very sad.

  12. Why did the stewards change their verdict, and why did it take so long?

    Red Bull, Austria GP.

    1. So, at least you did not read the article. Headhunter is your second name I guess.

      1. Hello erikje, yes I read the article.
        It’s becoming the same as Monza. Don’t expect fair treatment if Red Bull are involved and can apply pressure at ‘their’ race.

        1. @david-br
          Why did the stewards not watch all the footage and awarded the justified penalty saturday?
          Hamilton, Mercedes.
          Don’t expect fair judgement when it comes to those two (unless the FIA gets caught with their pants down).

  13. What bothers me most in this entire soap is the blatant untruths the stewards told in their initial ruling. They claimed Lewis saw green lights and yellow flags around turn 5. That is just not true. If you look at the footage (And it doesn’t even have to be the onboard one, the overhead view is clear enough as well), you can clearly see that no flags were being waved at Marshal Posts 13 and 14 (just ahead and past turn 4) when Hamilton came by, though if you look closely you can see the marshals already holding the yellow flags in their hands, FIA Marshal light no 9 (just ahead of turn 5) was flashing yellow and when he passed Marshal Post 15 (inside turn 5) they were waving a green flag (which in such a case means: “sector under yellow flag ends, you can proceed under normal conditions again”). These are the normal signals one would expect in case of such an incident when passing while it is actually still happening and the signals that were actually shown don’t match the stewards’ claim on Saturday at all.

    1. Exactly. It was a blatant lie, and same was ‘not knowing’ they had 360 onboard camera footage. They then topped it off by saying driving through yellow is Ok, or more specifically, if there’s a yellow and green to go for the green. Crazy stuff.

      This is beyond incompetence. Very suspicious indeed.

  14. I don’t think the point is about if he saw it or not, if he says he didn’t see it then he didn’t see it. But that makes no difference, it was there and so the penalty applies.

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