The high-speed near-miss between Lewis Hamilton and Sergey Sirotkin during qualifying at Interlagos initially looked like a slam-dunk penalty for the Mercedes driver.
Sirotkin caught Hamilton quickly and swerved onto the grass as the Mercedes driver made a late attempt to clear a path for the Williams. While it appeared Hamilton had held up a driver who was attempting to set a lap time, it soon emerged this wasn’t the case.
What at first looked like a classic case of ‘impeding’ turned out to be something else, as FIA race director Charlie Whiting explained at the end of the weekend.
“It looked a bit scary I admit,” he said. “But the predominant factor is both drivers were on out-laps.”
At Interlagos, the long flat-out climb to the start/finish line means most drivers prepare the begin their flying laps at the same point on the track between Mergulho (turn 11) and Juncao (tur n12), where Sirotkin caught Hamilton.
“Drivers tend to do all their preparation before turn 12, go slowly into turn 12 and then accelerate hard out of turn 12,” Whiting explained. “You can see the all bunching up when they go out, even in [first practice] for example they’ll bunch up there, then they let that go, then the next card goes, this sort thing. I understand that Lewis was doing that.
Hamilton correctly assumed Sirotkin was on an out-lap. However he was not aware Sirotkin was running on a used set of tyres and therefore having to push harder to increase temperature.
“[Hamilton] was told that Sergey was behind him. But he was on an out-lap so Lewis was thinking, ‘OK, we’re fine here, I can do my usual routine, get a gap to the car in front’.
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“Sergey felt the need to go a lot faster because apparently there’s a problem with tyre blankets. He was coming through turn 11 flat-out. Obviously Lewis saw him coming and thought it was a car on a fast lap the team didn’t tell him about. So he went to move over to let him through and Sergey had already committed left. And that was the reason for the incident.”
Sirotkin saw no need for the stewards to get involvedWhiting believed the incident was “just a misunderstanding – I looked because it was clear immediately to me what had happened and no one had done anything wrong.”
While Whiting does not rule on incidents, he has the power to refer them to the stewards. Teams can also raise protests if they choose to. However Sirotkin was also of the view Hamilton had done nothing wrong and said he wasn’t surprised there was no investigation.
“It’s very normal, it’s just been quite a unique situation which you never really find,” said Sirotkin. He downplayed the incident, stressing Hamilton “saw me in the last moment and I think he tried to give me room”.
Sirotkin wasn’t the only driver who encountered Hamilton on the racing line during the session. Kimi Raikkonen also dodged around the Mercedes driver. This too was not investigated.
Out of the seven accusations of impeding which were investigated this year, only three led to sanctions, and just one of those received a grid penalty. The stance taken by the stewards indicates they are unlikely to take action unless a driver has been significantly held up by a rival while trying to set a lap time.
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Impeding investigations in 2018
There have been seven investigations of alleged impeding this year, three of which have resulted in sanctions.
|Round||Session||Driver responsible||Driver impeded||Verdict||Stewards’ explanation|
|Australia||Second practice||Kimi Raikkonen||Valtteri Bottas||No action||Both drivers agreed that there was a limited sight line to the rear at turn three, and there was a closing speed of over 100kph between car 77 and car 7. Raikkonen had a very limited time to react to the car behind him. While Raikkonen clearly impeded Bottas, and while Raikkonen was not positioned where Bottas expected him to be, the stewards determined that Raikkonen did make a reasonable attempt to cede the apex of the corner and both drivers agreed that it was not unnecessary impeding. Therefore the stewards take no further action.|
|Azerbaijan||Qualifying||Sergey Sirotkin||Marcus Ericsson||No action||The separation of the two cars at Turn 7 was not small enough to establish a case for unnecessary impeding in what is the slowest corner on the circuit. It was noted that the driver of car 9 aborted his fast lap out of Turn 7.|
|Spain||First practice||Kevin Magnussen||Charles Leclerc||Reprimand||The driver explained that he had received a yellow flag at Turn 10 and had aborted his lap. He was unaware that the flag had cleared and that the driver of Car 16 who was immediately behind him had not aborted his lap as he had not been in the sector when it was yellow. The stewards accepted this explanation and found that there was not a case of Unnecessarily Impeding, and therefore not a breach of Art 31.5. However, the stewards reviewed the maneuver of Car 20 at the entry to Turn 1, where the driver of Car 20 moved to the right in front of Car 16 which was overtaking at the time. While the cars avoided a collision, the stewards deemed the maneuver to be potentially dangerous and unnecessary, and therefore a breach of Art. 27.4|
|France||Qualifying||Kimi Raikkonen||Kevin Magnussen||No action||There is no doubt that the “push” lap of car 20 was thwarted by the proximity of Car 7 which overtook car 20 just after it had started the lap. This was the last opportunity for each driver to achieve a fast lap in Q3. The stewards noted that the driver of car 20 was unsure of the intentions of the driver of car 7 during the last half of the previous lap, where car 20 was on an “out” lap and car 7 had aborted a push lap. Car 7 did slow towards the end of that lap but when compared to a previous out lap in Q3, there was a similar pattern of slowing in the same area. The stewards are not of the view that the driver of car 7 “unnecessarily impeded” car 20 (refer Article 31.5 of the Formula One Sporting Regulations). In addition, the stewards do not consider that the driver of car 7 drove “unnecessarily slowly” (refer Appendix L Chapter IV Article 2e of the International Sporting Code. Despite the negative effect the incident had on the lap of car 20, the stewards decline to take any further action.|
|Austria||Qualifying||Sebastian Vettel||Carlos Sainz Jnr||Three-place grid drop, one penalty point||Car 5 had just finished a push lap and was on an in lap, travelling quite slowly into and around turn 1, on the racing line. The driver conceded that he had passed car 55 between turns 7 and 8 but assumed it had pitted after. However, car 55 was actually commencing a push lap and closed on car 5 rapidly along the pit straight and into turn 1. During evidence, the driver of car 55 stated that he felt the driver of car 5 was completely unaware of his approach. This was confirmed by the driver of car 5 who stated he was unable to see car 55 in his mirrors and that his team had not informed him of its approach, by radio. The latter was confirmed by the team representative. It is the belief of the stewards that notwithstanding the absence of a radio call, the driver of car 5, being aware of the issue of rear vision with his mirrors, should not have been so slow and on the racing line, during a slowdown lap in Qualification. Having reviewed all alleged impeding incidents since the beginning of 2016, the penalty of a drop of 3 grid positions is consistent with all other similar incidents.|
|Hungary||Qualifying||Max Verstappen||Romain Grosjean||No action||Verstappen was on a fast lap but then caught Gasly early in the lap. He then aborted the lap. Grosjean who was on a fast lap, was catching Verstappen. He was six seconds behind at Turn 11 and four seconds behind at Turn 13. Verstappen was close to Gasly going into Turn 13. At this point Gasly set up for his flying lap and Verstappen in turn slowed to get a gap. Grosjean caught Verstappen between Turn 13 and Turn 14 which impeded Grosjean. While Verstappen was given reasonable, if slightly delayed information by his team, the stewards took into account that with the very wet conditions, there was limited visibility ahead, and no visibility behind the drivers. The gaps between Gasly, Verstappen and Grosjean changed over a very short section of the track, and under the conditions the stewards determined that the impeding was not, as the rule states, “unnecessary impeding” and therefore take no further action.|
|Japan||First practice||Pierre Gasly||Lewis Hamilton||Reprimand||On approaching Turn 16, car No 10 slowed down significantly on the racing line. Car 44 was approaching at racing speed on a hot lap and had to take evasive action to avoid car 10. The driver of car No 10 admitted that he impeded car 44 and acknowledged that he ought to have stayed on the right hand side of the track and had left it too late to move off the racing line. As this occurred in Free Practice, we imposed a reprimand on the driver of car No 10|
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