Toto Wolff: Why the penalty against Hamilton is “a little harsh”

(Motorsport-Total.com) – The (double) time penalty against Lewis Hamilton at the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi still causes heated discussions three days after the race. While Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff says that the FIA ​​judgment looks “a bit harsh” for him, Hamilton fans on the Internet wonder about an alleged disadvantage compared to Charles Leclerc.

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton’s pre-start phase caused problems in Sochi

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Because the Ferrari driver had practiced a start at the pre-start for the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa, also after the position actually planned beforehand, for which he, officially because of “driving unnecessarily slowly during the reconnaissance lap”, initially at the hearing with the local FIA commissioners Yves Bacquelaine, Garry Connelly, Johnny Herbert and Walter Jobst was quoted.

Leclerc exceeded the maximum prescribed time of 2: 04.0 minutes by two seconds on his out lap. The reason for this, as the commissioners later gave reasons for the verdict, was that he had run over safety car line 2 before his start of the exercise and thus triggered the timing too early. Verdict: “No further action”.

Since there are no publicly available onboard recordings of the Leclerc incident that could provide information about its exact position at the start of the exercise in question, it is not possible to compare the situation directly with that around Hamilton in Sochi. But for many fans there remains a pale aftertaste.

Wolff: “We agree to disagree”

In any case, Toto Wolff doesn’t understand the verdict: “I was with Ron Meadows (team manager; editor’s note) at the inspectors. Their verdict was that it wasn’t the right position. Where the right position should be is in not noted in the notes of the race director, nor is it in the rules. “

“So I don’t agree to this punishment – we are each other [mit den Kommissaren] agree not to disagree, “says the Mercedes team boss.” I always respect what the commissioners decide. But in that case I disagree with you. “

FIA race director Michael Masi protects the independent commissioners: “The place for the practice starts is track-specific and is declared in the ‘event notes’. At every other event, Lewis adhered to the requirements in connection with the instructions of the race director. “

Wolff, on the other hand, maintains that the now well-known “event notes” only state that practice starts must be carried out after the traffic lights at the exit from the pit lane. How far after the traffic lights, however, is not noted in the official documents, nor is the position marked on the asphalt.


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Which begs the question why this isn’t just done. The billionaire Formula 1 sport can certainly afford a little color even in times of the corona crisis. But: There has never been such a floor marking, says Masi: “We only specify the space for it.” It was no different under his predecessor Charlie Whiting.

Masi: Mercedes shouldn’t distract from the topic

The position for the practice starts is “a very track-specific element,” waves the FIA ​​race director and pushes the buck to the Mercedes team: “It was simply a mistake. I assume that there was miscommunication between the team and gave the driver with number 44. “

“Because Valtteri and all the other drivers used the correct practice area immediately after the traffic lights at the pit exit,” emphasizes Masi. And that was not the result of a whim of the rulers, but: “The reason that we set a place for the practice starts is the safety of all drivers.”

An argument that our expert Marc Surer can understand: “At the end of the confusing, curved pit exit, Hamilton made the starts at a 45-degree angle. At this point, someone who started the pit correctly has already made 200 km / h on it. So it was also dangerous. So in my opinion the penalty was mild. “

In principle, however, as in the case of Leclerc in Spa, the commissioners could have issued a “No further action” or just a warning. Even in the event that they were of the fundamental opinion that a rule violation had occurred. Masi confirms this on request from ‘Motorsport-Total.com’.

“The spectrum is wide,” he says. “The commissioners can apply any penalty from the Sports Regulations or the International Sports Code. That is what we have the commissioners for. It is their job to determine which penalties are appropriate under certain circumstances.”

Wolff: Why has never been so severely punished before?

Wolff does not understand that there were ultimately two five-second penalties. In an interview with ‘Sky’ he explains that, to his knowledge, there has never been a penalty for breaking the rules on an out-lap before the start of the race a bit harsh. “

Masi contradicts: To punish an offense before the start in the race is “not at all” unusual: “The commissioners are of the opinion that this has given him a sporting advantage. Therefore, they felt a sporting punishment was appropriate.”

You have to understand why Hamilton chose this unusual position for both of his practice starts in the first place. The chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin explains: “The drivers and also the engineers usually look for a piece of asphalt that is more similar to the conditions that they will then find on the starting grid.”

Therefore Mercedes should have given him the okay not to start directly after the traffic lights, but a little further out. But: “We didn’t realize how far Lewis would go.” Because the Mercedes command post had not seen the first start of the exercise in television pictures.

“We didn’t see the first practice start,” explains Shovlin. “When we saw the second, we thought they wouldn’t like it. We didn’t think it was dangerous, and because the ‘event notes’ said it had to be on the right and after the pit exit, we thought it would be ambiguous enough to defend. “

Shovlin admits: Not surprised by FIA sanction

“But when we saw the position of the car, it was no total surprise that it didn’t go down well,” he admits. “Certainly there would have been teams who would have complained about it. I don’t know if the FIA ​​and the commissioners saw it themselves.”

Wolff’s announcement that he would not protest the penalty was based on a lack of knowledge immediately after the race. Because no protest can be lodged against a time penalty that has already been served in the box. This is like the controversial referee decisions in football.

At Mercedes they will now analyze the incident in detail and try to learn something from it: “We have to look at our procedures and our communication,” admits Wolff – and makes it clear: “We will certainly not point the finger at the person who caused the problem. ” That is not Mercedes culture.

“Sometimes things are not black and white, but there is room for interpretation. And there is common sense. It is a fact that two race penalties were awarded for an incident that occurred before the race. And he had no advantage as a result I think. Because there was a lot less grip there than in its actual starting position. “

Bitter for Hamilton: The 91st victory, which would have put him on a par with record holder Michael Schumacher in the all-time best list of Formula 1, was postponed. He has the next chance now at the Grand Prix of the Eifel at the Nürburgring, a track on which one corner bears the name “Michael-Schumacher-S” …

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