Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2020

Mercedes realised stewards ‘were not going to like’ Hamilton’s practice starts

2020 Russian Grand Prix

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Mercedes did not see Lewis Hamilton perform his first practice start and only realised he could fall foul of the stewards when they saw the second.

Hamilton was given two five-second time penalties for performing his practice starts at the end of the pit lane exit, which the stewards determined was a violation of the rules.

Hamilton asked the team on his radio whether he could “go further out” to perform his practice start, and then whether he could go “to the end of the pit wall?” His race engineer Pete Bonnington answered: “Yeah, copy. Leave enough room for cars to pass.”

The team’s trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin confirmed the team did not realise where Hamilton intended to perform his practice start. It was only when they saw his second start that they realised the stewards were “not going to like” what Hamilton had done.

“Lewis asked if he could go a bit further,” Shovlin explained. “We hadn’t realised quite how far he was he was going to go.”

Hamilton wanted to change his practice start position in order to find a section of track where the grip level was similar to the starting grid. However the team did not initially realise how far out of the pits he had driven. When they did, they immediately realised they were likely to get in trouble.

“We didn’t see the first one,” said Shovlin. “When we saw the second one we thought ‘they’re not going to like that’.”

Mercedes did not believe Hamilton’s start was a safety risk, and were hopeful they would not get a race penalty for the infringement.

“We didn’t think it was dangerous,” said Shovlin. “And given that the event notes said that it was on the right-hand side after the pit exit, we thought it might have been ambiguous enough that we would have just got a telling-off.

“But when we saw the car position, it wasn’t a complete surprise that they didn’t like it.”

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54 comments on “Mercedes realised stewards ‘were not going to like’ Hamilton’s practice starts”

  1. Without the FIA’s ridiculous penalties Bottas would have come second. There should be an asterisk as big as a pineapple next to Bottas’s win.

    1. or as big as big BEE.

    2. @greenflag Shouldn’t there be an asterisk next to Lewis’ 2018 Russian GP win too then?

    3. I am not sure if Lewis had enough pace for that but i am sure he could go for second.

    4. If thats the case, then the pendulum swings both ways and Hamilton has won in the past due to a FIA penalties applied . And in the history of motor racing, things happen and a win is a win.

      I think it could be safe to say that you wouldn’t feel that way or post a dissatisfaction if it went the other way. I think Hamilton/Mercedes are starting to realize that there wings can still melt if they fly too close to the sun. But don’t worry they will still win the WDC. It’s just a little bit of spilled milk in the grand scheme of things but a win is still a win.

    5. @greenflag No he would have overcut Hamilton on the mediums and was faster on the hards so would have stayed ahead too. Hamilton could hardly make inroads on the Red Bull.

  2. Well, well, that sounds a bit different than “a nonsense penalty” and the rules not being clear, bla bla. Seems Mercedes should apologize to Hamilton for giving unclear instructions.
    Also, Hamilton should probably do what he said in the post race press conference and go through the rulebook, put a bit more effort into the track walk and studying the stuff that is track specific. I guess this kind of thing is exactly why Wolff keeps saying that it is not easy etc and they are only a small thing away from losing a chunk of points.

    1. Exactly. He has enough pace in hand, he could spend every friday reading the rulebook and still probably outqualify Bottas.

    2. I disagree. If you read the rules I am. It sure how he broke them… They are not clear if he received the penalties as the first clearly states that practice starts can not take place before the pit lane exit lights. He was clearly after them. The second states that he must not be in the fast lane. What is the fast lane? Was he in it? There are no marks to denote the fast lane as far as I am aware.

      1. There is such a thing a common sense. The reason we have so many rules is that time after time people in F1 interpreted the rules in a way that gives them an advantage. Now a simple message that everybody understood has to be twice as long, cause some team didn’t use common sense. It’s a bit like american warning labels. You have to explain everything, cause people seem incapable to do the thinking for themselves.

        1. Hey here is your coffee: CAUTION, it’s hot!

          1. @paeschli as an aside, the full details of that case do show a rather more nuanced picture – the individual who brought the case that had the side effect of introducing those labels did actually suffer from third degree burns, and the case did actually have a number of rather more subtle nuances. The superficial thing of warning labels disguises attention from what was actually a more interesting legal case than might first meet the eye.

          2. @paeschli One of my favourites is: do not iron clothes while wearing them.

          3. Zing-O! So true … and use a #4 font size.

          4. As @anon says, there is more to that coffee case. There is a great film which shows that it wasn’t as one-sided as you’d think.

      2. That’s why you’re not employed by an F1 team.
        Even Mercedes knew it wasn’t intended there: “When we saw the second one we thought ‘they’re not going to like that’.”

        1. Mercedes only mistake was not paying attention where Lewis was going to go what Mercedes thought otherwise they could warn him.

          1. exactly, @macleod.
            I was replying though to a contributor who blamed the rules for not being ‘clear’.

    3. @bascb Going through the rule book doesn’t really help though. The rules stated that he needed to be after the exit sign, on the right hand side off the fast lane and leave space for cars to pass. He did all that.

      1. on the right hand side off the fast lane

        How did he comply with that part? @f1osaurus
        And even the ‘leave space for cars to pass’ could be argued.

        Maybe they should go back to the Monza style notes with pictures and drawings :P

        1. @coldfly He was well off the path where the other cars went.

          1. Don’t make up your own rules! Just admit you were wrong in your original post
            The rules (event notes) say “the right hand side off the fast lane” not “off the path where the other cars went”.

            Or maybe you need bigger glasses.

          2. @coldfly Don’t make up your own rules! Just admit you were wrong in your original post. AGAIN!

            He WAS on the right hand side of the pitlane. Which part of that do you have trouble understanding?

          3. Which part of that do you have trouble understanding?

            I fail to understand your continued stubbornness, even when directly confronted with your inconsistent comments, @F1oClown.

          4. @coldfly going through the event notes, the full text in the section on practice starts is as follows:
            19) Practice starts
            19.1) 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. Drivers must leave adequate room on their left for another driver to pass.
            19.2) For reasons of safety and sporting equity, cars may not stop in the fast lane at any time the pit exit is open without a justifiable reason (a practice start is not considered a justifiable reason).

            As worded, those instructions do have some ambiguity because of the question of what exactly is defined as part of the fast lane of the pits. The ruling by the stewards then states:
            The driver performed the practice start near the end, but directly in the pit exit. Art 36.1 requires drivers to use constant throttle and constant speed in the pit exit other than in the 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.

            I would say that the question then turns on what the definition of the fast lane, the pit lane exit and the track itself constitutes, given the fact that the way that the event notes are written leave ambiguity over where exactly the zone where a driver is allowed to undertake a practice start technically ends.

          5. @coldfly He WAS on the right hand side of the pitlane. Which part of that do you have trouble understanding?

      2. Going through the rulebook does help. Especially when it’s written right there in black and white.
        A quotation of this year’s Russian Federation Grand Prix “Event Notes”:
        “19.2 For reasons of safety and sporting equity, cars may not stop in the fast lane at any time the pit exit is open without a justifiable reason (a practice start is not considered a justifiable reason).”

        So they had to do something. The question is only if a warning would have been enough.
        But it was a safety infringement with which Hamilton tried to gain an advantage over everybody else so imho a penalty was necessary.
        Had it happened in practice or in qualifying it would probably have resulted in some kind of a grid penalty and even Hamiltons most ardent fans would not have argued against it.
        But it was to late for that so IMHO a 5 second penalty (the most lenient penalty they can apply) is ok.

  3. Just one Finn helping out another.

  4. Both the team and Hamilton should be aware of the rules. If there’s any doubt don’t take the risk. Just do your practice starts the same place as everyone else. And always check that the pitlain entrance is open.

    1. +1 You’d think Hamilton and Mercedes would have learned to be a bit more cautious about giving the stewards any pretext for penalties after Monza and other incidents.

      The weekend snowballed for Hamilton. Scrubbed lap in Q2, no fuel for an extra run, second run aborted because of Vettel’s accident, engine overheating issues meaning Hamilton had to go out towards the rear, leaving little time for the final lap, meaning they played cautious and put him of softs (Hamilton wanted mediums), Hamilton clearly anxious about the start on P1 and wanting to practice starts ‘especially’. Third is hardly a disaster, particularly after a brilliant pole lap. But Hamilton needs to refocus. Or from another perspective, Bottas needs to take advantage of Hamilton’s shift in mindset over the past 2 or 3 races. But more than likely Hamilton will have rebooted in 2 weeks time, while Bottas’s bee-induced ‘FY’ win will just be a blip.

      1. I absolutely agree. As brilliant as Hamilton is I think he isn’t paying attention to every detail anymore and neither do Mercedes. How was it possible that they were the only ones who got Monza wrong and now it happened again? In between they annoyed Masi in Mugello where they we’re quite vocal about the restart procedure.
        It’s like they don’t know or care about the regulation or they try to outsmart them. Of course the stewards won’t like that and keep applying penalties, especially if you are messing with safety. Don’t give them the possibility to do so… In my opinion Hamilton was extremely lucky to get his penalty points deleted.
        They should just concentrate on what they can do best: Build and drive cars better than anybody else.

        1. @roadrunner it wasn’t just Mercedes who raised complaints about the restart procedure in Mugello though – the Grand Prix Drivers Association raised a formal complaint to Masi and requested a formal meeting with him to discuss the restart procedure, which the GPDA promptly held with Masi and Ross Brawn before the Russian GP. https://www.motorsport.com/f1/news/masi-race-restarts-progress-mugello/4882712/

          As an aside, Grosjean did indicate that the GPDA had also consulted with Anastasia Fowle, the legal advisor to the GPDA, about the contents of the letter they sent to the FIA – it’s an interesting detail that the GPDA felt it was necessary to obtain legal advice about their formal complaint to the FIA.

        2. @roadrunner

          How was it possible that they were the only ones who got Monza wrong

          Because they had the least time to react. Plus Giovanazzi also came in and Sainz was arguing that he could come in while passing the pit lane. Most drivers did not understand the lights on the opposite side of the road, but their team had time to browse through the messages from the FIA on the third or fourth page.

    2. It’s not that simple Dex. The place where everyone else had been doing them was rubbered in. That meant it wouldn’t generate good data for the start settings, as it didn’t match the surface on the grid, and they were vital for a good start to defend all the way down to T2. And that actually worked perfectly.

      There are millions of things to check and get right over a race weekend, it’s a bit simplistic to say basically “don’t take any risks or make any mistakes, oh and always check everything”.

      Lewis saw an opportunity to maximise, and asked the team. The team didn’t quite realise where Lewis was talking about, and mistakenly okayed it. Stuff like this happens in motor racing, even tho the effect can be so disappointing.

      1. The place where everyone else had been doing them was rubbered in.

        This is the most ridiculous argument, @zann.
        Why should any driver be allowed to practice on a better bit of tarmac than all the rest?

        1. Everything about it was ridiculous @coldfly. Why should the first comers be allowed to have a better surface than the later ones?

          Another one is that penalties are there for deterrence, so giving a second one when you haven’t even told him about the first is ridiculous too.

    3. Pretty much covers it. Not unlike times when a driver has settled for 2nd or 3rd rather than risk a major hit to his WDC chances.

  5. José Lopes da Silva
    28th September 2020, 0:41

    I have a feeling that all this was arranged for Netflix. I have no evidence to support this, though, so I can’t assert it’s true.

    But all of what happened with Lewis in the race day was weird. Good for comments and for a TV show, only. Irrelevant from a sport perspective.

    1. Very likely!
      Also I expect to see a discussion between Lewis and the team if he is allowed to start when the third red light comes on. They almost approved it but got confused if this would mean “on three, or after three”.
      It will also play the radio message where Hamilton utters the famous words “we need a bigger pit-exit!”

      1. Well the pitlane is very poor and extremely tight, even Abu Dhabi is better. btw don’t forget that at Interlagos they do their practise starts at the end of the pit lane. Admittedly there is even a start box there too. However Charles Leclerc not being penalised in Spa brings yet another twist to it . Even as an Lewis supporter I felt the final, amended, penalty was OK. That said some complacency has started to appear at Mercedes which is somewhat concerning. Personally a warning for the first incident plus a time penalty would have been my preferred punishment. Masi needs to get his ducks in a row.

  6. Hamilton and Mercedes have enjoyed such a massive advantage over other teams for so long now (since 2014) that they’ve become sloppy and arrogant.

    1. Or.. just want to improve more..

      As I mentioned elsewhere..

      [[Hamilton wanted to change his practice start position in order to find a section of track where the grip level was similar to the starting grid. ]]
      Shows utter focus and dedication.. yes it went wrong, but that happens sometimes

  7. Harry Barracuda
    28th September 2020, 6:20

    Mika Salo told a Finnish TV station that Hamilton was going to get penalised ten minutes before it was announced and while the investigation was still going on.

    The penalty points have been rescinded and Salo should take no further part in Steward decisions. Clearly he should not have been involved in a decision that benefited his countryman.

    1. So get rid of all the British stewards then..

  8. [[Hamilton wanted to change his practice start position in order to find a section of track where the grip level was similar to the starting grid.
    ]]

    Yes he got a penalty, but shows how much thought he has put into it, and that makes the difference. Hence 6 WDC..

    1. Yes, I wonder how many drivers will now be looking for a cleaner bit of the track to do their practice starts on now they know why Hamilton does it.
      Interesting to see the press conference where both Ham and Max were speaking the same language about the offence and punishment in general. Two drivers at the top of their game; head and shoulders above the rest, who both push the envelope as far as they can.
      Interesting little aside from I believe Peter Windsor and Missed Apex. Whilst the crowd were registering their shock, dismay and horror at Hamilton telling Bono he’s not interested in the gaps (as he had to manage the tyres for the rest of the race), Max was telling his engineer exactly the same for the same reason.
      Its times like this I miss Bernie. You know it would be underhand and probably dishonest, but one way or another Max would be in that second Mercedes seat now.

  9. A more mundane analogy for this would be the cheeky kid who has no respect for authority and ends up getting their whole class in detention. This has little to do with the minutae of an obscure rule.

    Everyone who transgressed a clear rule in this race, notably in T2, got penalised, even Grosjean for actually going through the chicane blocks. I suspect this was because of Hamilton giving the metaphorical single digit to the FIA after t-shirtgate. He disrespected the authority of the stewards and was going to be treated as harshly as the rules allowed. To avoid the usual cries of.. well you know… everyone had to suffer.

    The word is ‘entitled’, don’t you know who I am? Others have said it, but compare and contrast with Danny Ric’s reaction to his 5 sec penalty.

    1. RIC knew he went over the curb, and had no chance of winning. It was easy for him to be nonchalant. HAM didn’t believe he was doing anything wrong with his practice start and saw no good reason to be penalized.

  10. I think the problem with the gps signal. It doesn’t show where the car is in the pit straight. It only works when the car is on track. They couldn’t see where HAM was until they saw the replay of him doing the second start. Then it was too late.

  11. Perhaps Shovlin should brief Two-Faced Toto before he gets caught lying on TV again …

  12. Mercedes is making way too many small mistakes lately, huh?
    Ok, they are at the front for so much of the time it’s way easier to lose a race, but c’mon!

    It was already that tight on saturday to let this pass under their radar on the very next day…

  13. So, the 2 points on his license were cancelled because the team told him to start there, but now it appears it was Hamiltons idea to do the practice starts there after all. Too much politics in there….

  14. Where did the team *think* he was going to perform his practice start(s)?

    One look at the map, and there aren’t many places where it’s safe to do so, and “past the end of the pit wall” is pretty specific.

  15. I would love to know where this need to do practice starts at different location than has been indicated comes from?

    For years the steward designates a location for practices starts and for years every driver has done practice starts at that location, but this weekend Lewis somehow felt the need to break that protocol.

    And then the silly blames get played by Mercedes, we are the victim, where does it say so in the rules, bla bla bla bla bla…

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