Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2020

Practice start rules revised for Russian Grand Prix following Hamilton penalties

2021 Russian Grand Prix

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Formula 1 drivers have been given new guidance on how they may perform practice starts at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix after Lewis Hamilton was penalised during last year’s race.

The Mercedes driver was given a pair of five-second time penalties for performing pratrctice starts where the pit lane joins the track at Sochi Autodrom during his pre-race reconnaissance laps.

The stewards ruled he had “performed the practice start in the incorrect place”. He was originally give two penalty points for the infringement, but these were later cancelled, and the team given a €25,000 fine instead.

The guidance given to drivers on practice starts has been revised ahead of this weekend’s race. They have been advised practice starts can only be performed “immediately” after the pit lane exit lights on the right-hand side.

A further note adds: “For reasons of safety and sporting equity, at any time the pit exit is open and when practice starts are permitted to be carried out, any car who wishes to perform a practice start must form up in a line and leave in the order they got there unless another car is unduly delayed.”

Drivers were given similarly specific instructions on practice starts for last year’s Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring which immediately followed the race in Russia.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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34 comments on “Practice start rules revised for Russian Grand Prix following Hamilton penalties”

  1. Urgh, this is stupid. For a sport which involves many technical rules, they love adding vague language. That’s what caused the problem last year (“after the pit exit lights” can mean anywhere from the pit exit lights onwards). Now they include the equally-vague word “immediately”. Is 2m after OK? 10m? 20m? How long before someone is penalised because they have gone slightly further than the stewards think constitutes “immediately”?

    How difficult would it be to say “within X metres of the pit exit lights”? Or define a marker beyond which they can’t perform their practice starts?

    1. @drmouse, No, after automatically means immediately in this context and has done so for a while + on every circuit. People shouldn’t misinterpret obvious messages.

      1. @jerejj

        I assume you are not involved in writing or interpreting technical (or legal) documentation. If you write a spec for a consultancy which says “This must be released after the upgrade to v5.1”, the consultancy certainly won’t read that as “immediately after”.

        Rules are like technical documents, in that they must be clear and precise or they will be read in the way which is most beneficial to the party reading them, and it will be left to the lawyers to sort out who is interpreting them correctly. Even the use of “immediately after” is still open to interpretation: The stewards may consider it within a car length, one team may think it’s within a metre, and one may thing that anywhere inside 20m is fine… It’s hopelessly vague!

        1. @drmouse Since the exact wording of the communication to the drivers about practice starts has not been published here I wouldn’t assume they have not been more specific than ‘immediately.’ For all we know a zone has been indicated to them on a bird’s eye view of the pit exit area. But in the context of this issue, where LH was penalized for practicing starts way down and away from the pit exit, such that drivers were coming around the bend at speed having left the pit exit, only to find a car sitting there off to the right, I think the drivers get the point. If you don’t want to get driven into, do your practice starts immediately after the pit exit where cars behind you can see that you are doing that, not way down where drivers are going to be surprised to see someone unexpectedly sitting there. Pretty common sense and I hardly think lawyers need be brought in. This was reviewed last year at this race when LH was penalized, they talked about it again at the next race, and now they’re talking about it again this year at this race. I should think the drivers get it by now, so if they or their team wants to claim ‘hopelessly vague’ then that would reflect more poorly on them then the reg makers.

          1. @robbie

            Since the exact wording of the communication to the drivers about practice starts has not been published here

            The exact wording really isn’t that hard to find. It’s published on the FIA site for each event

            If you even need to look that up since the fact that according to the actual rules Hamilton did nothing wrong was clear already back then. They “immediately” added the word “immediately” to the practice start location in the director’s notes for the next races after penalizing Hamilton.

          2. @f1osaurus Right so your comment should be directed at the others who are claiming vagueness, not me.

          3. @robbie

            It is still vague. You don’t know if you can do a practice start 10m from the lights, or 20m, or if you have to be within a car length. In a sport which judges things by the millimetre and millisecond, that’s incredibly vague, open to so much interpretation that it has the potential to be abused.

          4. @drmouse I just doubt it has been left vague to the drivers who overwhelmingly weren’t practicing starts nearly as far down as LH was anyway. They all seemed to already have common sense about it last year anyway. If F1 was actually still too vague today well the drivers have ample opportunity to ask questions and get clarity before they turn a wheel this weekend, but as it is last year they seemed to almost all understand what to do and what no to, except for LH.

          5. @robbie I hope you’re right. I still think it would make a lot more sense to use an objective definition to avoid doubt and confusion later.

            However, I still think “any point after the lights” was a perfectly reasonable and valid interpretation of last year’s notes, and that the notes this year could be misunderstood or misapplied either now or in future races. “Within 20m of the pit exit lights” leaves no room for interpretation, no ambiguity.

            That said, “before the Safety Car 2 line” also leaves no ambiguity, but Leclerc still got it wrong and the stewards didn’t even notice when it was pointed out to them by Ferrari themselves. Clear directions are not a silver bullet, they just make it easier to be certain that roles are being applied on a consistent and fair manner.

          6. @robbie No it’s aimed at you for repeatedly claiming that “we” don’t know what is in the directors notes. The fact that you don’t know anything besides what you read here doesn’t mean it’s not readily available

          7. @f1osaurus Which really just supports my point that to only go by what has been said in this article is folly. There is more to the directive than just the word ‘immediately’ so there is no reason to think the drivers or teams would find anything vague about where they are to do practice starts. There’s directors notes, there’s likely been verbal communications to the drivers, and there’s likely been ample opportunity for the drivers and teams to ask questions if they’re somehow still confused, which I doubt, since it was really just LH doing this anyway.

            When I said ‘we don’t know’ it was as an immediate response to the theory presented that was playing off this article, that ‘immediately’ was still too vague. We certainly don’t know, aside from the directors notes, what all has been discussed amongst F1 and the teams and drivers, but I find it highly unlikely it is vague in anyone’s mind within F1 what it is they are supposed to do for practicing starts, nor that this all hinges on the word ‘immediately.’

          8. @robbie No it’s your lack of insight. You can try to move the goal posts all you want, but that remark on us not knowing what’s in the directors notes is just ridiculous.

            Really there is more than just this blog.

          9. @f1osaurus You’re way too sensitive. Or just way too keen to argue over nothing. The discussion I was having with drmouse was simply about not taking what was written in this article as being all the information the drivers would have. The ‘we’ was about he and I. If you want to project that we onto yourself, and be all insulted by it, go for it. You keep proving my point. There is more than just this blog, so going by this article and then saying the drivers will be vague on where to do practice starts, is folly. Not sure how I can word it any other way, but you do you.

          10. @robbie The problem is you talk total BS and then come back and pretend like you know it all and actually will not be ashamed enough to say the total opposite to pretend you weren’t utterly wrong. Just knock it off.

  2. Nothing different really. The word ‘immediately’ doesn’t impact meaning.
    Last year’s note was crystal clear even without this word.
    ‘After’ automatically means ‘immediately’ in these contexts anyway.
    The additional note has also appeared on other weekends.

    1. in a very strict sense, there is no context when it is written down. A regulation, or rule or scope or whatever legalese way you say it, has to be definitive by definition otherwise the laxity o language will be exploited. They have tried to overcome this using the particularly odorous “spirit of the rules” clauses whereas it gives them licence to issue citations based on what the feel is right rather than what was actually written, but it is intentionally vague.
      If they say after, they might mean one thing but if it is not explicitly clear by way of a clarifying proposition, such as shortly, or immediately, it can be open to interpretation. It is better if they give a definitive, marked location for practice starts and the necessary picture as they have done elsewhere to avoid such vagueness.
      Leclerc did the same at another circuit but didn’t get penalised when the rules were far more clear cut.

      1. @marvinthemartian @drmouse
        The wording was clear for everyone else. Also, for Mercedes on the 2014-2019 Russian GP weekends. Therefore, last season should’ve been the same since nothing had changed from the previous six editions.
        DRS rule has been easy ever since 2011, i.e., from lap three/3rd post-SC lap onwards.

        1. @jerejj

          “The wording was clear for everyone else” that the steering wheel was only for steering, not altering the toe, before DAS. There have been many times when “wording was clear for everyone else”, but one team has found a loophole in them. Even with identical rules year after year, people can find alternative ways to read them at a later date.

          TBH, I think Hamilton deserved to be penalised last year, but only because he went marginally too far to the point where those exiting the pits would not be able to see him. A short way further back so that he could be seen from the exit would have been fine, because of the ambiguity in the rules, but he should have considered drivers exiting the pits at full speed. However, I still think it was ridiculously harsh to penalise him twice. If it was considered dangerous, it was the duty of the marshals, stewards and race control to inform him and Mercedes immediately. It is perfectly reasonable to think that it’s OK if nobody has said otherwise after a full lap at significantly less than full speed and a trip through the pits, so the second instance should not have been punished IMHO.

    2. @jerejj
      I strongly disagree. Language used in rules should be clear and precise. After doesn’t specify any constraint on how far after. It is not precise, and not obvious, especially in a technical sport where wording means everything and all competitors are trying to find ways to use the rules to their advantage.

      The sporting regulations even set a precedent here:
      – 19.3 repeatedly uses the phrase “immediately after”. If it was clear and obvious that “after” meant “immediately after”, they wouldn’t need to use the extra word so many times
      – 21.5b specifies DRS “may be activated by the driver after he has completed two laps after the race
      start or following a safety car period”. So, only on the third lap, then?
      – 25.4 says “Any competitor whose car has a change of survival cell after initial scrutineering… must complete a new declaration”. I’m fairly certain this doesn’t only apply immediately after.
      – 30.1b states “Fuel may not be added to nor removed from a car after it has left the pit lane to start the
      first reconnaissance lap”, again I don’t think that means only “immediately after”.

      There are many other uses, in some of which “after” be reasonably inferred to mean “immediately after”, some which can be reasonably inferred to mean “any point after”, and some of which make a clear distinction by using specific wording. However, it is certainly not completely clear from either the directive, the context, or in reference to the written rules that “after” here meant “immediately after”.

      1. Sorry @jerejj but that’s none sense. At no point has it been known as “immediately after” or it’d be worded as such.

    3. @jerejj There are plenty tracks where it’s not “immediately” after the pit exit line.

        1. @jerejj Among others yes, so why would it be implicitly known that it’s always “immediately” after?

  3. It still bothers me that this all uses subjective language. Put a length on it, a number. How many metres after the pit exit? And is there a line across the track clearly delineating the pit exit and from which to measure?
    Get the numbers in there then there are no arguments. Same with track limits.

    1. I completely agree. Use markers and distances to define the area and there can be no argument. Even “immediately after” is open to interpretation. What happens when a steward decides that performing the start from 2 or 3 car lengths down is not “immediately” enough for him?

      1. @davethedrummer @drmouse As per my comment above, aren’t you assuming things from this article? Just because they haven’t published here all that was likely communicated to the drivers about this issue, starting last year, then the race afterwards last year, then this year again, doesn’t mean the drivers need precise measurements and a zone painted on the track after the pit exit, to get it. For all we know they have been directed to a diagram of the track and had it pointed out to them what would be acceptable and what would be dangerous, ala LH last year. I highly doubt the stewards would decide 2 or 3 car lengths down is not ‘immediately enough’ for that car would be plainly visible to the cars behind. Too far down is around the bend where a car coming out of the pit exit at speed would be surprised to see a car sitting there off to the right. Let’s not overthink this, and rather just use some common sense. You’d think this issue should never have even arisen, for it is certainly not common sense for LH to have done what he did…a penalty worthy offence and one that has needed review yet again…to put yourself in danger by making yourself a sitting duck with a practice start so far away from the pit exit that cars behind can’t see you’re doing that until they’re on you at speed.

        1. @robbie
          I think you are the one making assumptions that more has been communicated to the drivers than has been shared in this regard, especially if you are referring to last year. It would be expected that, if there were more details, they would have been shared (or at least referred to). There would certainly be no reason for adding “immediately” to the race directors notes if “they have been directed to a diagram of the track and had it pointed out to them what would be acceptable and what would be dangerous”.

          And I doubt that whoever decided on the wording last year thought, for one moment, that anyone would consider using a position so far down the pit lane. That said, I doubt anyone considered someone would come up with the DAS, double-decker diffuser, F-duct, fan-car or 6-wheeler when they wrote the regulations for those years. The intent/”spirit” doesn’t matter when looking at the rules, only what is written. Given the amount of interpretation available in “immediately”, you cannot say for certain that an over-zealous official won’t decide that, say, more than 1 car length is not “immediately”, or that a team/driver won’t try to push it to 5-6 or more car lengths to get some cleaner track. Without clearly defined zones using accurate and objective language, there is always the possibility for confusion, which is what we saw last year.

          1. @drmouse Yes I don’t think it is a stretch to assume that there have been more discussions between F1 and the drivers about this than has been expressed in the article above. I have a feeling this doesn’t all hinge on defining ‘immediately,’ and I’m sure that they have made it clear to the drivers what exactly they intend by ‘immediately,’ using more words than just the one. I doubt F1 had the drivers together and just said, ‘you will do practice starts immediately after the pit exit,’ and then dropped the mic and walked out. And given that it was only LH that did this last year, got penalized for it, caused discussions about it then, and for the next race, and then again for this race, I think it is safe to say the vast majority of the drivers who weren’t doing practice starts where LH was anyway, won’t be doing it this year either. They wouldn’t have even without further clarification, as if LH’s penalty last year wasn’t enough.

          2. @robbie

            OK, I can see your point. Drivers and stewards this year will likely know what it means.

            However, that doesn’t stop it being vague in future years. A new driver won’t have been involved in these discussions, and future stewards may well interpret it differently.

            I work as a software developer. If I am given a piece of work, I may discuss with my client the exact specifications required. However, if that work is delayed and picked up by another person at a later date, they will not have had the benefit of my discussions. If the specification for the work has not clearly captured the requirement in objective terms, there is every possibility that it could be interpreted differently.

            So, say the specification said “This is to be released after the upgrade to v5.1”. I clarify and find out they mean “immediately after”, as in no stopping work, released within 30 minutes of the upgrade. However, if all they do is change it to “immediately after”, it would not be unreasonable for a future technician to interpret that differently: Immediately after could mean the next day, or at the next scheduled release a few days later. The correct thing would be to specify “This is to be released no more than 30 minutes after the upgrade to v5.1”, as this leaves no ambiguity in the matter.

  4. Why not a simple and cheap red painted practice start line. Unambiguous.

  5. I Got serious Singapore 2008 vibes from last years race.

    I am convinced the race was fixed last year to PREVENT Lewis from winning: ridiculous 2x time penalty for a procedure that every driver does, timing of the penalty was handed out suspiciously late after the race started almost as if the race directors waited to see how the first lap for Lew went was before deciding the severity of the penalty.

    My assumption is that Liberty not wanting to offend Russia/Putin done everything technically possible to deny Lew a win so he wouldn’t make a political BLM salute after winning on the podium.

  6. Sounds to me very precise, immediatly holds little room for interpretation.

    Pit lights and after the line rear wheels for practice start. There.

    Not 1m, not 20m…

  7. Just seems strange to hold off on a directive that fails to not avoid clarifying what may, or, may not, be a problem.
    This is F1, you wouldn’t want to not, cause confusion. Should we be promoting comma sense, or not? Why yes, of course.
    Not that I am a specialist in this, but isn’t “immediately” a time based criteria?
    So now they are indicating you have a certain “time” after leaving the pit exit.

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