Why Hamilton’s Safety Car tactics were ruled legal after Verstappen’s radio complaint

2023 Australian Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen was quick to alert his team when he suspected Lewis Hamilton had broken the rules during the Australian Grand Prix.

In a message played on the world feed during Sunday’s race, Verstappen claimed Hamilton had fallen too far behind the Safety Car on lap nine. His remarks were seized on by some television commentators who suggested Hamilton had indeed committed a rules breach.

“Mate is this more than 10 car lengths?” Verstappen asked race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase. “Look, check it.” Failing to keep pace with the Safety Car almost cost Verstappen’s team mate Sergio Perez a win last year in Singapore, so it’s no wonder he was sensitive to it.

However those watching on the world feed were left unaware of Lambiase’s reply to his driver 15 seconds later which indicated Hamilton was doing nothing wrong:

Lap: 9/58
VerstappenMate is this more than 10 car lengths? Look, check it.
LambiaseLooks like the Safety Car lights might be off, Max.

Race leader Hamilton was particularly eager to let the Safety Car get ahead of him because of the circumstances of the race on lap nine. The race was about to resume from a standing start following a red flag.

Hamilton, like Verstappen and most of the drivers behind them, was about to take the restart the race on a set of hard tyres. Drivers seldom start races on the hard rubber, and all were eager to ensure they brought the compound up to temperature.

So as the cars followed the Safety Car out of the pit lane at the beginning of lap nine to resume the race, Hamilton was quick to ask his race engineer Peter Bonnington when he would be able to drop back from it in order to begin accelerating at braking more harshly in an attempt to force heat into his Pirellis:

Lap: 9/58
BonningtonSo this will be a standing start.
HamiltonAre we following the Safety Car? No one’s going to get their tyres warm behind the Safety Car
BonningtonYeah copy, we will have to, it is going to be a struggle.
BonningtonSo you’ve got to stay ten car length until the lights go out, then you can control the pace.
HamiltonSafety Car needs to speed up.
HamiltonThe Safety Car lights are out. Can I slow down?
BonningtonSo yep, you have control of the pace. The Safety Car lights are out, you control it.

While Verstappen was querying Hamilton’s tactics with his team an alarming near-miss behind them. Several cars dropped far behind the pack and had to brake suddenly when they caught it. Zhou Guanyu, Logan Sargeant and Kevin Magnussen all had to take evasive action to avoid hitting cars ahead of them, the latter ploughing through the gravel at the exit of turn six.

The stewards investigated the near-miss after the race and ruled it hadn’t been the result of Hamilton’s restart tactics. They concluded it arose due to George Russell making a late getaway from the pits when the Safety Car left.

In their verdict, the stewards made a point of stating Hamilton’s driving was in line with the rules. “In this case, car 44 [Hamilton] was the first car in line and when the safety car lights went out at turn six, dictated the pace by going very slowly (as the regulations entitled it to do).”

This wasn’t the only time during the race Verstappen pointed a finger at Hamilton’s driving. He also objected to his rival’s move at turn three on the first lap, when he lost a place to the Mercedes driver. On that occasion too, the stewards were apparently just as unmoved by his complaint.

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2023 Australian Grand Prix

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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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20 comments on “Why Hamilton’s Safety Car tactics were ruled legal after Verstappen’s radio complaint”

  1. Good for flagging it though (while it might be legal, it is also dangerous) so the regulatory framework can be reviewed and adapted.

    1. No, what’s dangerous is some drivers racing round the track at high speed and taking blind corners with no thoughts on leaving any margin. More to the point you have to ask why some cars were so far behind the car in front under the safety car anyway. Sure they can look at the procedures but ultimately the issue here is drivers not driving appropriately for the conditions of the track.

      Verstappen moaned because Hamilton was driving slower than he wanted as he knew his tyre warmup was bad, that’s tough because it’s the leaders right to dictate the pace and Verstappen wasn’t leading at that stage. Verstappen doesn’t care if the safety car is 10 car lengths in front in reality, he was trying to get a penalty so he didn’t have to race Hamilton.

      1. yes, seems to be the standard these days, same as the off track reporting of other drivers.

    2. The “dangerous driving” clause applies to erratic speed, not slow speed. Hamilton can drive as slowly as he wants, as long as he doesn’t change speed back and forth.

  2. Max´ complaint was not in line with regulations. According to the rule book Lewis did nothing wrong. However Lewis´ driving can be called irresponsible, since he drove way too slow (sometimes almost to a standstill) during a part of the formation lap, and therefore putting the drivers behind him at risk of collisions. The rules for formation laps should be changed.

    1. Could maybe be done with a technical adjustment that limits the slowing down to a certain degree. Bit like a reverse pit speed controller. It leaves the leader with control over the pace, but he can’t slow down to a virtual standstill that can be dangerous to cars further down the field.

    2. As the article explains though Bojangles, Hamilton slowed down to control his tyre temperatures, which as the article also explains has the function of getting them in the proper window for the start, which isn’t only a matter of performance, but also one of safety: cold tyres can lock. I’d prefer the broadcast next time adds in the reply from Verstappen’s engineer, who instantly made clear why it wasn’t an issue (and it also meant that Verstappen could do similar as well, I’d add).

      1. @bosyber They didn’t broadcast the response because that would have put an end to any debate and they would rather try to stoke the ‘controversy’ for as long as possible.

      2. They did broadcast the “Looks like the Safety Car lights might be off, Max” message on the Sky feed I watched…

    3. However Lewis´ driving can be called irresponsible, since he drove way too slow (sometimes almost to a standstill) during a part of the formation lap, and therefore putting the drivers behind him at risk of collisions.

      @Bojangles these are the best drivers in the world, all they need to do is know the rules and not drive quickly around blind corners when there’s a safety car and problem solved. Lead car should be able to drive at what pace they like to warm up their tyres

    4. I think this rule must be altered so atleast a minimum speed is garanted as the harmonica effect almost caused a pileup in the rear. Atleast 100km/u should be enough

  3. Max doesn’t know the rules, Hamilton does. When Max was in the lead for a standing restart, he radioed the team asking for a 5s penalty on the pace car for going too slowly.

    1. Alternate option, the message was both delayed and Max couldn’t see the lights on the safety car.

      Not everything needs to be so dramatic.

    2. If Hamilton knows the rules so well, why did he overtake Verstappen after the finish under Red Flag conditions?

      1. No, he didn’t overtake Verstappen. You might have been hallucinating.

        1. Then how did he reach the pitlane before Verstappen?

          1. The race was over. They were on the cooldown lap, not a red flag. There is no rule about overtaking (or not) once the session is ended (ie, checkered flag).

            After receiving the end-of-session signal all cars must proceed on the circuit directly to the parc
            fermé without any unnecessary delay, without receiving any object whatsoever and without any
            assistance (except that of the marshals if necessary).

            Are you really that desperate to find something to complain about regarding Hamilton?

          2. @Grat
            There was a red flag because of spectators being on the track during the in-lap. Guess you don’t know about that either.
            Hamilton and Max were both informed about the red flag and warned by their engineer not to overtake. Just playback the team radio’s.

  4. I was never a fan of Michael Schumacher, but I have to admire the guy as he knew the rules …. to a T.
    How to win a race from the pits, how to reduce the effect of a pit penalty and a host of other incidents that he was able to take advantage of.
    Alonso is another that seems to have a solid handle on the details.
    In the case of Lewis and who controls the speed to the start line. it shouldn’t take a ruling, it is already a regulation. Clear and simple. Lots will disagree with the rule as written, but it is there and like the standing restarts, is supposed to be followed. Hazardous and s…..d, very likely, but they are rules. Just hope they get changed soon.

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