Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2020

Leclerc and Hamilton’s practice starts show “variability” in stewards’ decisions – Wolff

2020 Eifel Grand Prix

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The stewards’ decision to penalise Lewis Hamilton for a practice start violation at the last race having cleared Charles Leclerc over a similar incident previously shows Formula 1 “still has some variability” in how incidents are handed, says Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.

Hamilton received two five-second time penalties during the Russian Grand Prix after stewards determined the Mercedes driver had performed two practice starts in incorrect locations during his pre-race reconnaissance laps.

However documents issued by the stewards three races earlier at Spa indicated Leclerc had done the same without penalty. The details emerged when the Ferrari driver was investigated for exceeding the maximum lap time on his reconnaissance lap.

The stewards ruled Leclerc was not in breach as he “had crossed Safety Car line two, hence triggering the timing for the lap, then stopped for approximately 12 seconds to perform a practice start, then completed the reconnaissance lap.” However this indicated Leclerc contravened the race director’s instruction to drivers stating that such practice starts “must be done prior to the second Safety Car line”.

Speaking ahead of the Eifel Grand Prix, Wolff said he felt the rules had not been applied consistently.

“I saw Charles’s situation and it was the same,” he said. “He was after the position that was indicated in the event notes. He wasn’t that far down the pit exit as was Lewis, but nevertheless he was still after the line.

“We have still some variability between penalties on one side,” Wolff concluded. “Something that from the pure optics looked much less of an infringement, [which] was Charles, but nevertheless behind the line and behind the lights, and that wasn’t penalised.

“Then, on the other side, you had a situation where Lewis was further down the line and still in the same position and was awarded two five-second penalties. So we need to have a little bit of a more balanced situation.”

However Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto disagreed the two incidents were comparable. “Relative to Charles, I think that the situation was completely different in Spa,” he said.

“There was a race director’s note indicating that drivers could have somehow passed the line just to make that they were avoiding to have a queue in the pit lane. That’s exactly what Charles did, just passing by two metres the line, to avoid any queue, without having any advantage from that move. So I think that situation was completely different and that’s simply our view on the Charles fact in Spa.”

Hamilton originally received two penalty points on his super licence for the practice start breaches, however both were later rescinded by the FIA.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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23 comments on “Leclerc and Hamilton’s practice starts show “variability” in stewards’ decisions – Wolff”

  1. While I agree with the inconsistency, there were different circumstances in these two cases: Hamilton did his second practice start at a section where cars were exiting the pitlane at over 200kph and Leclerc did his start near a very slow hairpin. In terms of safety, the former is potentially much more hazardous.

    1. @kaiie if you want to argue about safety as the reason how bout look at charles driving without seatbelts at spain? even on a kart or road cars its punishable.

  2. Has a time penalty ever been handed to a driver for an infringement caused outside of the race itself?

    I don’t really like the idea of time penalties being handed out for incidents/infringements when they occur outside of the race itself (lights out to chequered flag).

    1. This! I’ve seen grid penalties handed out to the infringements that happen outside the race but never saw time penalties for something that happened even before the race started. Can someone more knowledgeable than me tell me if there is a
      precedent?

      1. @rockgod Sort of. Fernando Alonso got a two-second time penalty in Hungary 2006 for swerving in front of Robert Doornbos in second practise and, in a separate incident during the same session, overtaking under a yellow flag. Michael Schumacher also got a two-second time penalty for overtaking two people under a red flag. I say “sort of”… …because these penalties were applied to qualifying, not the race.

        There were also the times McLaren got time penalties in 2015 for the crime of having Honda engines in their unreliable phase. However, those were excess grid placements that were getting converted to in-race penalties due to the impossibility of serving more grid penalties than there were grid slots on the grid.

  3. Go Toto! “still has some variability”.
    The politest peas take ever!

  4. I really hope Toto doesn’t go Horner’s ways with his commenting.

  5. Leclerc actually escaped two penalties. He was far too slow on his reconnaisance lap and then out of the practice start area. I know LH was criticised for saying they are out to stop us, but when you see this obvious bias, he may well have a point.

    1. Bottom line we need more consistency from the stewards. We also don’t need the Finnish steward Mika Salo leaking the news of Hamiltons penalty to his colleagues at CMore TV, 10 minutes before it was announced by Sky.

  6. And today HAM can’t fix extra play in his steering as that is a “comfort” issue and not a safety issue.
    In the LEC decision, LEC was cleared of the initial infraction, too long of a lap time, and then cleared of the infraction that was found to be the cause of the initial infraction. Yes there was a difference between HAM’s and LEC’s infractions, LEC wasn’t given any penalty for anything and HAM got 2 penalties and points against him. We must remember that points were given to HAM even though someone called the stewards and made it clear that the penalties were outrageous enough.

    1. @jimfromus The steering issue should have been corrected, that could have been horrendous had it turned out to have had a dangerous cause. I’m not convinced the scrutineers would have known the difference unless they were told rather more information than has so far been shared with us.

  7. There also was the difference that Leclerc broke the actual rules. While Hamilton didn’t. The rules describing where to do the start just weren’t as clear in Sochi as they were in Spa, making Hamilton’s start location legal according to the actual written rule. The written rules were then adjusted to match the intent.

    I also wonder if Hamilton was reported by another team. Or that the stewards themselves decided to investigate the “incident”.

    1. The rules describing where to do the start just weren’t as clear in Sochi as they were in Spa, making Hamilton’s start location legal according to the actual written rule

      This is a massive issue I have with the penalties Hamilton received: he was not technically in breach of the rule cited in his penalty. The fault lies with the race director for not making his notes clear. When you add in that Leclerc broke the rule that they said Hamilton did without penalty, it seems both very harsh and incredibly inconsistent.

      The only argument I can see in favour of the penalties in light of this is that Hamilton’s practice starts were in a dangerous position. I can accept that, but if so:
      1) the race director needs to man up and accept that he screwed up with his notes, making for an unsafe situation
      2) there penalty should have been issued under a role which concerns dangerous driving, not the practice start race notes rule (which he didn’t break)
      3) if it was so unsafe, the stewards should have been immediately on to Mercedes after the first infraction. If they had done that, they would have avoided the second and Mercedes would obviously have told Hamilton not to do the same again.

      1. @drmouse Further, the FIA should have investigated the race director for breaking the rules about how they are supposed to designate safe practise start zones. As it stands, they should be investigating the stewards for breaking their own regulations. That they are not concerns me, especially as there are other inconsistencies the stewards did that day which are not even subject to inter-rater reliability issues or slight differences in notes (the way the practise start box is).

        I can understand the stewards not pursuing Leclerc because it would have encouraged others to engage in malicious compliance – i.e. abiding by the letter of the law even when it is plainly against the spirit of the law. But in that case, again, the race director should at least have been informed by someone in authority in the FIA that he was in error concerning how the safe practise start zone was designated. Sometimes Michael Masi protests too much.

  8. If Hamilton’s manager was a son of Jean Todt then Hamilton would also be treated like Leclerc.

    1. @bulgarian +1
      Saved me having to put that detail out there. Maybe Masi can design a little flag with flowers on for him to wave next time Charles does the same?

    2. @bulgarian I don’t think so, because it’s not just one driver who gets away with things that Lewis Hamilton (and to a lesser extent Daniel Ricciardo) don’t. It’s several, and there’s no common thread between them that I can see. More likely, having Nicholas Todt as his manager would simply cause Lewis’ penalties to make Jean silently seethe more.

  9. Leclerc was let off for breaching one rule in Spa (going too slow on the formation lap) because the reason he was slow was due to him breaking another rule (doing an illegal practice start). Ok, that sounds perfectly fair?

    1. Ferrari International Assistance rush to the recue yet again.

    2. @mjhoward Because the reason he broke that one was because following it would have led to him breaking another rule (blocking others in the pit lane) and the only thing that would have resolved all three regulations would have breached the FIA’s rule about providing equal opportunities for drivers. Not that they are consistent about following that rule (hence Toto Wolff’s point about variability in stewarding decisions), but since the FIA has inadequete accountability protocols, that’s where the “give” is going to be in such situations…

  10. If it was a safety issue, a race director worthy of the name would have sorted out the issue on the spot, rather than waiting for a repeat and gleefully working out how many points to impose. Of course it’s inconsistent. Time and again Leclerc has been shown leniency. It’s not needed, he’s a good enough driver without FIA’s special assistance.

  11. It’s too many rules on
    Modern F1 era. Looks like we are in the army

  12. Ferrari International Assistance, Jean Todt and Ross Brawn worked for 🤔
    Why do you think Brawn is so keen on a reverse grid, they just don’t want Hamilton to break Schumacher’s record. And they positively hate the fact that Hamilton doesn’t cheat and is a much better driver than Schumacher was.
    For there to be any consistency from race stewards there needs to be a group of 12 ex drivers, 4 of whom are selected at random for each GP, and no rules should be changed over the race weekend. If the race directors notes are ambiguous then the driver should be given the benefit of the doubt.

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