Charlie Whiting explains penalties from Mexican GP

FIA Race Director, Charlie Whiting, explains some of the stewards decisions from the Mexican Grand Prix in the Drivers Press Conference during previews for the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on Nov. 10, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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FIA F1 race director Charlie Whiting has explained why Lewis Hamilton was not penalized for cutting across the grass in the Mexican GP, and yet Max Verstappen did receive a penalty for a similar offence.

Whiting joined the regular FIA press conference – attended by both drivers – in order to address controversial issues arising from the Mexican GP. He stressed that Hamilton did not gain an advantage by straight-lining the corner.

“I think the principal difference between the two was simply that, in Lewis’ case it was felt that he didn’t gain any lasting advantage and it Max’s case, he did,” said Whiting. “You can see that Lewis makes a small mistake at the beginning, cuts across, gains significant track advantage but then sets about giving that back immediately. You can see on the straight – or we can see – on the straight between Turns 3 and 4 he backs off to 80 percent throttle to give that advantage back. Because obviously he’s got a significant advantage there.

“Then, about a minute later, the Safety Car’s deployed and that advantage is gone completely. So, the stewards felt no lasting advantage. On the other hand, the case with Max and Sebastian, if Max had done the same thing on the straight between Turns 3 and 4, he would certainly have lost the place. I think that’s why the stewards felt that this deserved a penalty because the driver had gained a lasting advantage. That’s the fundamental difference between the two incidents in the eyes of the Stewards.”

Expanding on Hamilton not getting an advantage he added: “We were going to ask Lewis to back right off to ensure that he maintained the same distance he had when he went in to the corner but we could see from the data that he had already backed off significantly and then the VSC was deployed followed by the safety car so there was no need to take any further action but had that not happened, yes we would have done that, yes.”

Not surprisingly, the two drivers expressed different views.

“Of course I don’t agree with the decision but it doesn’t really make a lot of difference, does it?” said Verstappen. “I’ve got a penalty. I think if you give penalties, give it to both or you don’t give any penalties. But I think what we maybe need to change for the future is that once you go off it should be a penalty on its own instead of the stewards interfering with that to decide a penalty. I think we need to come up with a solution that, once you go off, that should be the penalty on its own.”

“I agree with Charlie’s explanation,” said Hamilton. “I don’t really have a particular opinion about it. I think ultimately the stewards have a very, very difficult job because every single scenario is different, as he was mentioning. For example, the Safety Car came out immediately after my incident, for example. Every scenario is a little bit different; it’s not that easy to apply the same rule to every single thing. I also agree with Max that we should work with Charlie – as we have been, I think, through the year – to try and make it easier for them to make decisions and for it to be more clear.”

Meanwhile, Whiting said that the FIA had made efforts to address corners that could be cut.

“I think we’ve done this in fact in a number of circuits where you have a situation similar to the one that occurred in Mexico: second chicane in Monza; last chicane in Montreal; Sochi, first corner or turn two in fact. So we’ve developed systems, if you like, that drivers have to take a certain route back onto the track and thereby are automatically slower.

“This wasn’t a problem last year in Mexico because I think simply because the grass was all new and it was wetter and it was more difficult to drive across. This year, quite clearly, it was quite easy to drive across and hence we had a problem, but it’s very easy, I think, to rectify that and do a similar sort of arrangement to come back onto the track, which will mean that drivers will come back on slower and hence there will be no discussion whether or not they gained an advantage. I think that’s what Max was saying earlier.”