(Motorsport-Total.com) – The breakdown of Lewis Hamilton’s pit radio at the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi showed that the Mercedes driver only found out about his two five-second penalties around 25 minutes after the Finnish TV viewers – and that he was not warned by his team about the position for the practice starts.
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Hamilton first drives out of the pits and reports that the wind has changed. His race engineer Peter Bonnington confirms this and says that the wind on race Sunday is “different from Friday”. Bonnington also notes: “We start in the pit lane in the same position as in FT3.” Actually a clear instruction, but Hamilton questions it.
Hamilton: “There is old rubber there. Can I go further out or not?”
Hamilton: “Until the end of the pit wall?”
Bonnington: “Copy. Leave enough room for cars to pass by.”
Hamilton drives past the pit wall, where all the engineers sit, out of the pit lane to the end of the lane that runs parallel to the racetrack and connects the pit lane with the racetrack. He only stops shortly before the end of this track to practice a start there.
Mercedes command post does not see exercise starts
Bonnington and his colleagues at the command post cannot see this on their monitors and therefore have no idea that there could be problems. During the first so-called “reconnaissance lap”, Hamilton is calmly advised that Esteban is approaching Ocon from behind and instructions are given on how to adjust the clutch.
Then Bonnington answers again.
Bonnington: “Drive through the pit lane for another start.”
Hamilton: “How was the grip there?”
Bonnington: “That was at a low temperature, so little grip and not representative. Regarding the lap itself: Tires are in the window. Assume that they will be a little hotter.”
Hamilton: “Same position for the start again?”
Hamilton: “Confirm. Same position.”
Hamilton is now doing the second start of the exercise and is taking a second five-second penalty, which he of course did not suspect at the moment. Bonnington remains calm on the radio: he now has Romain Grosjean behind and Antonio Giovinazzi in front of him. The fact that disaster might threaten is not an issue.
Only a few minutes later does the Mercedes team see Hamilton’s second practice start on TV replay. “We didn’t see the first one,” explains senior race engineer Andrew Shovlin later. “When we saw the second, we thought they wouldn’t like it.”
“Event-Notes” not formulated as clearly as claimed
But initially there is no evidence that the practice starts could be punished. The “Event Notes” do not specify exactly where such starts may take place, nor is there a floor marking at the corresponding position. And Hamilton thinks he is safe because, for example, he has often driven to the end of the pit exit in Interlagos.
The fact that Hamilton wanted to start as far out as possible made sense to get more representative data for the start settings. Accordingly, it is of course important to discuss the starting exercise with the command center in order to draw the right conclusions from it.
Hamilton: “What was the goal for this start?”
Bonnington: “Target hit.”
Hamilton: “The grip there was very bad.”
Bonnington: “Copy. I’ll give you some feedback in a moment.”
Then it’s quiet on the radio for a while until Hamilton reaches the starting grid. Before he gets out of the cockpit, he communicates with the team again. “Feels like the grip could be lower,” he says.
Now it’s not Bonnington’s answer, but Hamilton’s control engineer Marcelo Martinelli: “We should have a little leeway as soon as we get up to temperature. But it wouldn’t hurt to be a little careful when letting go.”
Slowly the disaster slowly takes its course. While the race stewards George Andreev, Gerd Ennser, Andrew Mallalieu and Mika Salo are still officially advising, Finnish television reports the two five-second penalties as fixed – including a possible race suspension at the Nürburgring. But because Mercedes does not watch Finnish television, nobody gets to know anything at first.
After the crash, Hamilton first thinks of his colleagues
Hamilton wins the start, then due to two crashes (Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll) there is a safety car phase. The leader asks: “Are everyone okay?” And is relieved in the cockpit that everyone is fine.
Bonnington points out that there are many wreckage on the route, especially “at the exit of Turn 2”. Hamilton drives there particularly carefully and slowly in order to avoid driving over parts of the Sainz-McLaren lying around and thereby getting a punctured tire. The gap to Bernd Mayländer in the safety car is short for a long time.
Bonnington: “Don’t forget: a maximum of ten vehicle lengths.”
Hamilton: “When it comes to Debris, I drive as slowly as possible.”
Fun fact by the way: When Hamilton gave information about how far the recovery work at Stroll’s Racing Point had progressed, he still called the team “Force India”. Regardless, he focuses on keeping the operating temperatures in the correct window. In between he growls: “Is the safety car driving as fast as it can?”
After the restart on lap 6, the race takes its course. At 2:52 and 2:53 p.m. local time, documents 46 and 47 flutter from the race control from the FIA mailing list into the inbox. Now the two time penalties have finally been determined.
The ninth lap of the race is underway when Mercedes informs Hamilton.
Bonnington: “Lewis, we have a ten-second time penalty for breaking the rules at the start.”
As with his penalty in Monza (pit entry when it was actually closed), Hamilton initially has no idea what it is about. He is not aware of any wrongdoing and therefore asks first what it is actually about.
Hamilton: “What happened?”
Bonnington: “These starts on the way to the starting grid took place outside the designated position. Five seconds penalty for each of them.”
According to the first information: Hamilton can’t believe it
The tenth round begins.
Hamilton: “That’s bullshit.”
Bonnington: “Copy, Lewis. […]”
Hamilton: “Where does that say in the rules?”
Bonnington: “We’ll have to have that conversation later, Lewis.”
Hamilton: “Anything to slow me down. But it’s okay.”
Bonnington’s job now is to make the best of the situation and make sure that Hamilton stays focused despite his obvious anger. He therefore does not go into the grumbling of the six-time world champion and instead provides information relevant to the race. Very factual and with a calm voice.
On lap 13 he asked Hamilton, who now had a two-second lead over Valtteri Bottas and a good three seconds ahead of Max Verstappen, to pick up the pace for the upcoming pit stop.
TV expert Karun Chandhok dawns: “This is bad news for him. If he pits now and has to serve the ten-second penalty, he’ll come between Latifi and Albon [auf P15] out again.”
The 14th round begins.
Bonnington: “Let’s give it our all!”
Hamilton: “Don’t get me in so early! Don’t.”
Bonnington: “Copy, Lewis. You have to keep this pace.”
Pit stop on lap 16: Hamilton doesn’t want to yet
Lap 16. The Mercedes engineers already know that the pit stop is imminent. Hamilton has extended his lead on Bottas to 2.5 and on Verstappen to 5.6 seconds.
Bonnington: “Balance check, balance check.”
Hamilton: “A little oversteer. Otherwise the balance is okay.”
Bonnington: “Box, box. Box, box.”
Hamilton initially argues against the team’s instructions, but then gives in and drives to the tire change. It is interesting that Bonnington takes note of his objection (“Copy”), but does not address it at all.
Hamilton: “The tires are still okay.”
Bonnington: “Copy, copy. So box, box.”
Hamilton turns to the pits.
Bonnington: “Box, Box. We’re now serving the ten-second penalty. So keep the engine speed low and watch out for the sign.”
Hamilton: “Is it ten seconds of Stop & Go?”
Bonnington: “We have to serve the penalty at the stop, we have to serve it at the stop. Pay attention to the traffic lights, because of the timing.”
Hamilton only realizes during his pit stop that the time penalty is not simply added to his racing time at the end. When he initially fears that it is a stop & go, his voice sounds very surprised. As he pulls out of the box, he mumbles: “That’s just ridiculous.”
Hamilton does not understand punishment, does not give up
He has not yet come to terms with his fate. On lap 17, now in eleventh place in the race, he begins to discuss again.
Hamilton: “Why did we have to serve her, why wasn’t the time added up at the end of the race?”
Bonnington: “Lewis, we had to dismount them when changing tires. Let’s stay focused.”
Hamilton: “How far have I fallen behind now?”
Bonnington: “Probably on P11.”
Photo gallery: Sochi: driver grades from the editorial team
Hamilton now sees Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari in front of him. “Have everyone else stopped?” He asks. Bonnington explains to him that most of the opponents ahead of him have yet to come to change tires. “We are still on course for the podium,” he affirmed. And a little later: “You are virtually third on the track.”
On lap 19, Hamilton begins to discuss again.
Hamilton: “Why did you bring me in so early?”
Bonnington: “To prevent undercuts from other cars. Ocon is behind you now.”
A few radio messages about the racing events are exchanged. When the subject of the correct handling of the tires comes up, Hamilton reacts irritably.
Hamilton: “You brought me in so early, now I have to take care of the tires. Otherwise I won’t get to the end.”
Three laps later, Bonnington gives him a very factual message: “Verstappen 39.9.” But Hamilton is angry now. He just says: “I don’t want to hear that anymore. It doesn’t make any difference anyway.”
Bonnington: “Copy, Lewis.”