Hamilton's Practice Start Violations - Breaking Down the Investigation
Lewis Hamilton was handed two five-second time penalties during in Sochi for practice start violations.
On the day that Lewis Hamilton could have equalled Michael Schumacher's record of 91 victories in Formula 1, news that the stewards were looking into an incident regarding Lewis Hamilton prior to the start of the race was headlined everywhere.
After receiving no further action from the stewards for not going round the left-hand side of the bollard into Turn 2 during qualifying, the British driver found himself once again under the scrutiny of the stewards for a violation of the FIA Sporting Regulations. It related to the location of his practice start, where Hamilton had been found to perform two practice starts on the pit exit leading onto the track.
The stewards ruled that Hamilton was, indeed, in breach of these regulations and handed him a five-second time penalty for each of practice starts he made on the pit exit.
As a result, the six time world champion lost the lead of the race when he made his pit stop and could only recover to third whilst teammate, Valtteri Bottas, took the top step of the podium.
Both Hamilton and Mercedes were visibly confused and unsure on the decision of the stewards, and fans were divided on whether or not the penalty was too harsh.
Whilst this article isn't going to discuss whether the penalty was fair or harsh, we'll breakdown the decision document surrounding the incident in order to understand exactly why the stewards made this investigation.
What does the decision document say?
As mentioned earlier, Lewis Hamilton's practice start at the exit of the pit lane was deemed by the stewards to be in breach of the FIA Sporting Regulations. More specifically, it breaches Article 12.1.1 which states the following:
"Failure to follow the instructions of the relevant officials for the safe and orderly conduct of the Event"
On its own, this doesn't provide a lot of clarity and still leaves us with questions.
What it does tell us is that the stewards have felt that the practice starts done on the pit exit have been against instructions from the FIA, which could be seen a possible safety risk.
Looking back at the decision document, it then refers to Article 36 of the FIA Sporting regulations, which covers everything from the pit lane being opened before the start of the race all the way up to the start of the formation lap. This covers situations such as how many personnel can be on the track at any time for a team and how many reconnaissance laps a driver can do before they make their way to the grid.
The stewards specifically referred to Article 36.1, which states that drivers must "use constant throttle and constant speed in the pit exit other than the place designated for practice starts".
This adds more pieces to the jigsaw. Now we know the stewards feel this is a safety risk as they believed Hamilton was not using constant throttle and speed when he exited the pit lane. This is fairly obvious, as if Hamilton has stopped to do a practice start then he is definitely not using constant speed and throttle on the pit exit.
However, there is another significant piece of detail that we need to look at. Article 36.1 mentions the rule of constant throttle application is exempt when a driver is inside the place designated for practice starts. Because every track is different, the practice start area is not always in the same place. Some tracks have a designated area on the right hand side of the pit exit lights, such as the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, whilst others are held on the pit lane exit such as the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
To work out where the designated area for practice starts are for Sochi, we need to look at the Event Notes for the Grand Prix to give us our answer.
Note 8 of the Russian Grand Prix Event Notes document states "Practice starts may only be carried out on the right-hand side after the pit exit lights and, for the avoidance of doubt, this includes any time the pit exit is open for the race".
This clarifies exactly where the practice area is and also confirms that Hamilton did not conduct his practice start in the designated area.
Put the pieces together and this will highlight the thought process of why the stewards sought to investigate this incident;
- Hamilton made a practice start that was outside of the designated area that was stated in the Event Notes for the Russian Grand Prix;
- As a result of conducting a practice start outside the designated area, Hamilton was not achieving consistent throttle and speed, stated in the FIA Sporting Regulations;
- These actions were breaching the instructions provided to the drivers and teams, which could have presented a safety risk as a result.
This type of logic is something stewards will go through each time an incident appears before them, hence why at times some decisions take longer to make. It's important that each decision has a logical thought process behind it to ensure penalties are not given out unfairly.
The difficult part is then to determine the appropriate penalty to apply once the investigation has been completed, which always leads to a lengthy debate...