Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Baku Street Circuit, 2022

Why Hamilton and Norris escaped penalties over “necessary” qualifying slow-down

2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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The Azerbaijan Grand Prix stewards cleared both Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris for driving “unnecessarily slowly” during a peculiar incident in Q2.

It was the kind of incident the stewards have recently indicated they intend to clamp down on. So why were the pair not penalised?

Recent seasons have seen the benefit of a slipstream become increasingly important in qualifying and nowhere else is this as critical as Baku, with the longest single stretch of full-throttle running on the calendar.

This has led to simultaneously comical and concerning scenes, such as in Monza in 2020, where multiple drivers missed out on starting a flying lap in the final phase of Q3 as drivers slowed down en masse to not be the first car in the queue. This has only exacerbated the existing problem of drivers wanting clear air for the majority of their flying laps, resulting in cars bunching together in the final sector and creating dangerous hazards for those pushing to set a time.

Report: Stewards preparing to clamp down on slow out-laps after 55 violations in qualifying
In response, the FIA introduced a maximum time that drivers must not exceed during sessions, or risk being penalised for driving “unnecessarily slowly”. However, despite this rule, cars have continued to bunch up on out-laps. At the Spanish Grand Prix 18 drivers were found to have breached the maximum lap time on 55 occasions over the course of the three qualifying sessions.

Heading into qualifying on the Baku City Circuit, in a Mercedes that produces among the highest levels of drag of any car in the pit lane, Hamilton was especially keen to make sure he could find a slipstream from a rival to help him maximise his top speed along the main straight.

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Q2 incident radio transcripts

With just under six minutes remaining in Q2, Hamilton was circulating slowly on a warm-up lap and looking for a car that he could gain a slipstream from down the long main straight:

SpeakerMessage toMessage
Will JosephLando NorrisOkay Lando, so Hamilton is the car in front. He is six seconds ahead.
Peter BonningtonLewis HamiltonRemember – we’re going for laps one and three.
Lewis HamiltonPeter BonningtonYeah, but I need some… is there anyone behind?
Peter BonningtonLewis HamiltonNorris and Ricciardo. There is four ahead, though. So they may spread out, but you have Norris behind on an out lap with Ricciardo behind.
Will JosephLando NorrisSo as always, we go for it on the first timed lap.
Peter BonningtonLewis HamiltonStrat mode one.
Lewis HamiltonPeter BonningtonGap to in front?
Peter BonningtonLewis HamiltonIt’s currently 23.

Exiting turn 12, Hamilton pulled over to the left side of the track and slowed to almost a complete stop to encourage Norris to pass. This briefly brought out yellow flags in the second sector.

SpeakerMessage toMessage
Will JosephLando NorrisDon’t let him play silly buggers. He’s got to keep an eye on his delta. If he doesn’t, he’ll be in trouble.
Peter BonningtonLewis HamiltonRemember that delta. Come on – can’t go slow.
Will JosephLando NorrisHe’s the lead car. He’ll be in trouble.

Hamilton picked up speed and eventually began his lap without a slipstream. He abandoned his attempt after a mistake in the second corner.

SpeakerMessage toMessage
Lewis HamiltonPeter BonningtonI got no tow, man. It’s just ri-
Lewis HamiltonPeter BonningtonI don’t know what you expect from me, man, sometimes (sigh).
Peter BonningtonLewis HamiltonSo traffic with Norris and then Ricciardo, so we’ll get one more push.

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What the stewards said:

Lando Norris, McLaren, Baku Street Circuit, 2022
Norris backed off so he didn’t pass Hamilton
Despite coming to almost a complete stop on the exit of turn 12, neither Hamilton nor Norris exceeded the maximum lap time of 2’09. Instead, both Hamilton and Norris were placed under investigation by the stewards for potentially breaching Article 33.4 of the FIA Formula 1 sporting regulations. Article 33.4 states that “at no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person.”

However, the stewards determined neither had driven in an erratic or dangerous manner. As the stewards described, “although car 44 [Hamilton] was slow… the driver pulled over to the left and off the racing line, this occurred on a straight where visibility was not an issue and there was no potential danger at any point, to any other driver.”

The stewards also noted that both cars had enough space for Ricciardo behind to pass them, but that, naturally, Ricciardo declined the opportunity. With all three cars on out-laps and not impeding each other, there was no basis for any breach of regulations to have been alleged.

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What the drivers said:

Speaking before the stewards cleared him of wrongdoing, Hamilton insisted that he had respected the maximum lap time delta. “We’re one of the slowest in the straight, so needed a tow,” Hamilton explained.

“The rule is you have to be within your delta time from exit of the Safety Car One line to Two line. I was within my delta. I slowed down and pulled off line – completely off line – to let other cars go, but they didn’t want to go by.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Baku Street Circuit, 2022
Hamilton admitted he was trying to get a tow
“I don’t think it’s a problem. They had a choice to go by, they didn’t. I was within my delta. If I was below my delta I could understand, but no.”

Hamilton pointed to the example in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, where the majority of the field had escaped unpunished despite exceeding the maximum lap time.

“An interesting scenario is when we were in Barcelona there were cars that just completely ignored the delta and drove ridiculously slow,” Hamilton said.

“I think one or two of them got penalised, like a reprimand. But in going as slow as they did, they were like way, way, way slower, they would have gained at least five degrees of tyre temperature and that’s why they were so quick. And I remember when they were going slow I went around them so I didn’t have any problems. But anyway, today I wasn’t below my delta, I was off-line, it wasn’t unsafe.”

After speaking with the stewards, Norris had no qualms with Hamilton over the incident, noting that he may have done the same if he had been in the Mercedes’ position and that there was nothing “unnecessary” about backing off in that scenario.

“There was a point, so it wasn’t unnecessary – it was necessary,” said Norris.

“He wanted the slipstream, I wanted the slipstream and I didn’t want to pass him because of it. He did nothing wrong. It’s racing.

“Everyone knows this is what happens here at times. I don’t feel he did anything wrong. I probably would’ve done the same thing if I was in his boat.”

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2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Author information

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...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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15 comments on “Why Hamilton and Norris escaped penalties over “necessary” qualifying slow-down”

  1. That was a lucky break for LH, I suspect we will have a new rule about pulling over like he did.

    1. “lucky break”? Never occurred to me that he’d walk … “The Teflon Don”.

  2. If a car is pulled over and driving slowly, that should be a Yellow Flag.?

  3. 2’09 is way to slow. Should have been 1’50

  4. Nothing will be done about all this silliness until the inevitable huge crash occurs when a car or a flyer smashes into a car or cars all dawdling along trying to find space or a slipstream.

    Teams continue to do this time and time again and for most of them, it ends up with their drivers not optimising their laps because of traffic. Is it really worth risking not even starting a lap and having the tyres cold to try to gain a few tenths?

    I’ve yet to be convinced.

  5. Setting a maximum time for the SC2-SC1 track portion wasn’t a response to the infamous 2019 Monza Q3 fiasco, as this has got done for a long time, long before the 2019 Italian GP weekend.
    In the Hamilton-Norris case, nothing silly happened in the end.

  6. Glad to see the continuous lies by the FIA. And then Binotto has the audacity to say the FIA is not consistent…
    The sentence:
    “at no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person.”
    clearly says ”unnecessarily slowly” and Hamilton and Norris were clearly driving “unnecessarily slowly”. Of course being british, like Alonso noted, other rules applies to those people…

    1. Hamilton and Norris were clearly driving “unnecessarily slowly”.

      This isn’t measured by the naked eye though. There’s a very precise delta target for it. They didn’t breach it.

      1. So it wasn’t slow?
        Sure looked like it to me.

    2. Aren’t you reading right?
      Read it again more carefully:
      “which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person.”
      And certainly not fans of Alonso to complain about the privileges in relation to the English pilots

  7. I’d call this ‘delta farming’. Clearly the delta times are not doing much to prevent drivers from slowing like crazy, that too in the run to turn 15 (where the Gasly/Hartley incident occurred). This particular incident with Lewis was okay, but there’s nothing stopping from evolving into something worse in the coming races.

    1. The delta is one thing, but that shouldn’t substitute for a car actually driving too slowly – which this clearly was, on a green racetrack.
      The time is coming where an incident will occur, and all we can say is that everyone saw it coming.

  8. Much ado about ntn really. Lewis was not blocking the drivers behind. He was off the racing line. He was within the delta.

    1. But dangerously slow…
      Ever seen Billy Monger’s crash?

  9. This is a detailed and drama-free explanation. Thank you @clairecottingham and @willwood!

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