Top Formula One team managers have called on the sport to end the ambiguity and confusion over the rules of the track boundaries after it turned out to be a watershed issue at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Mercedes director Toto Wolff denounced the rules as being the length of a “Shakespearean novel” and Red Bull’s Christian Horner said they should be final rather than “shades of gray.”
Lewis Hamilton won the season opener for Mercedes after a thrilling battle with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. During the final laps, Verstappen had overtaken Hamilton, but was forced to return the spot immediately, because he had exceeded the limits of the track at turn four during the maneuver.
He and Red Bull immediately accepted that the race control instruction was correct, because the Dutchman had gained a “lasting advantage” by passing, but there was considerable controversy over the confusing application of the rules during the race at the same corner, where it appeared. Hamilton had been gaining the upper hand by taking the wide line.
Hamilton had been taking the widest and fastest line on the understanding that it was acceptable due to the FIA instruction that the track boundaries would not be monitored for lap times at that turn. Horner believes that Hamilton’s line may have been worth up to two tenths of a second per lap. However, the FIA warned Hamilton about taking that broader line mid-race.
Horner argued that there should be no room for interpretation on how the rules are applied. “With these things limiting the court, they are always going to be controversial,” he said. “But we need to have a consistent situation. You can’t say, ‘It’s okay to wear it in the race, but you can’t overtake there.’ It must be white or black, it must not have shades of gray. “
Wolff agreed, citing the complexity of the instructions drivers and teams receive. “We need to be consistent with the messages that are transmitted,” he said. “They must be clear, they must be sacred and not a Shakespearean novel that leaves interpretation.”
When Hamilton was informed that he would face a warning and then a possible penalty, he stopped opening but wondered why the rule had apparently changed mid-race.
FIA race director Michael Masi insisted the rules had not changed. He explained that the rules that stated that turn four would not be monitored and also warned drivers that they were not allowed to gain an advantage when opening. However, that ‘advantage’ seems to mean in the context of overtaking or defending more than in the lap time: certainly that seems to be how most teams interpret it.
Simpler and clearly defined directions are required for drivers, Wolff insisted. “At the beginning of the race it was said that the limits of the track in turn four would not be sanctioned,” he said. “Later in the race we suddenly heard that if you kept running wide it would be seen as an advantage and could cause a possible penalty.
“The lesson of this is that it should be simple, so that everyone can understand it and they do not need to carry the document in the car to read it and remember what is allowed and what is not.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism