Mercedes driver and championship leader Lewis Hamilton had issues with title rival Sebastian Vettel’s driving during the Azerbaijan GP. He believes that the Ferrari driver set a dangerous precedent for driving. What made him even more mad was the fact that Vettel was not penalised for driving erratically during the first Safety Car restart.
The Safety Car came onto the track twice during Sunday’s race. The first instance was at the end of lap 1 following a series of accidents. Vettel led from Hamilton at the time. On lap 5, the Safety Car returned to the pits. As is the norm, the lead driver (Vettel in this case) controls the pace of the pack.
Baku’s characteristically long pit straight spells dramatic restarts. The lead car has to try and avoid overtaking the Safety Car before it reaches the pits. At the same time, he has to keep an eye on the car behind and prevent a slipstream battle down to Turn 1. Vettel left his acceleration fairly late (an action that is allowed under the regulations) and warmed his tyres as much as possible. By accelerating and braking, he backed up the field as much as he could before getting the whole shot to restart the race.
According to Article 39.13 of the sporting regulations: “in order to avoid the likelihood of accidents before the Safety Car returns to the pits, from the point at which the lights on the car are turned out drivers must proceed at a pace which involves no erratic acceleration or braking nor any other manoeuvre which is likely to endanger other drivers or impede the restart.”
With the vague wording of this rule, it is open to interpretation by the stewards. Hamilton believed that his adversary was in breach of this regulation.
“The rules are that, when the Safety Car goes, you are not allowed to start and stop, start and stop,” he said. “You are not allowed to gas and then brake and you are not allowed to fake the guy behind. Naturally, if there was not that rule that is what you would do because it would eventually catch them sleeping. But you are not allowed to do that.
“You are allowed to weave but you are not allowed to start and stop, start and stop — that’s against the rules. If you look at all the times and examples — particularly the four restarts I did last year — I didn’t do that and I abided by the rules.
FIA director Charlie Whiting said that the FIA stewards analysed the restart and found nothing wrong with Vettel’s conduct.
“I think he [Vettel] controlled it very well but it’s up to the leading driver to say when we go,” Whiting explained. “Unlike some other series, they have an acceleration zone, a place where you can accelerate. You can’t do it before or after that. Once it goes green, the Safety Car comes into the pits, it’s up to the leader to decide when he is going to go.
“This is a tricky place, they catch the Safety Car too early if they go too quickly. I think Seb controlled it well. There was a bit of a complaint from Lewis that he wasn’t going at a constant rate, but if you look down the field, there’s a few places where that happens. To expect them to go at one speed doesn’t happen. So long as no one does anything dangerous, we’re happy.”
An unconvinced Hamilton said that he would raise the issue at the next drivers’ briefing at the Spanish Grand Prix.