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Mat Coch writes:
FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting has sent the teams a note reminding them of what their drivers can and cannot do when battling another car. Handed to teams on the Sunday of the British Grand Prix, the note appears to have come in response to incidents at the European Grand Prix.
The note teams received stated:
1) Any driver defending his position on a straight and before any braking area, may use the full width of the track during his first move provided no significant portion of the car attempting to pass is alongside his. Whilst defending in this way the driver may not leave the track without justifiable reason.
For the avoidance of doubt, if any part of the front wing of the car attempting to pass is alongside the rear wheel of the car in front this will be deemed to be a 'significant portion'.
2) Any driver leaving the track, (i.e. no part of his car remains in contact with the track in accordance with the current regulations), may re-join the track but without gaining an advantage. Whilst the relevant regulation states that a driver may gain no advantage at all by leaving the track, we feel the stewards should be encouraged to use their discretion in cases where it is not entirely clear whether or not a driver has gained any direct or immediate advantage.
The emphasis in the above passage, identical to that received by the teams, suggests the FIA is in this instance referring only to defending in a straight line. It further implies that, as has always been the case, he who holds the line going into a corner holds all the cards.
The reminder comes after Jean-Eric Vergne drove in to Heikki Kovalainen in a move more suited to Formula Ford racing in Valencia, and goes a long way to explaining why the stewards punished Pastor Maldonado for his clash with Lewis Hamilton.
Alongside Hamilton under braking, the Williams driver ended up with four wheels off the circuit as the pair rounded a right hander. At that point Article 20.2 of the Sporting Regulations came in to effect;
Drivers must use the track at all times. For the avoidance of doubt the white lines defining the track edges are considered to be part of the track but the kerbs are not.
A driver will be judged to have left the track if no part of the car remains in contact with the track.
Should a car leave the track the driver may rejoin, however, this may only be done when it is safe to do so and without gaining any advantage.A driver may not deliberately leave the track without justifiable reason.
In essence once Maldonado left the circuit he was no longer racing Lewis Hamilton, meaning if the Venezuelan made the pass stick he would likely have been forced to hand it back. It's this scenario Whiting's note looks to have reminded teams of as immediately after the incident Maldonado seemed bewildered by the situation, claiming "Lewis did not leave me any space."
As the leading car, and the one on the racing line, Hamilton was under no obligation to leave the Williams room. However, footage also shows the McLaren driver left space for Maldonado to rejoin the circuit, despite having four wheels off the track.
This is the point Whiting has moved to remind teams. That Maldonado ran over a kerb before colliding with Hamilton is both no defence and irrelevant; the offence was being in that position in the first instance while Hamilton was within his rights in using the width of the circuit around the right hander.
This was further underlined by FIA Steward Mika Salo, who was involved in handing Maldonado's a 10,000 euro fine for the incident. Speaking with Crash.net the former Tyrrell and Ferrari driver said: "If you look at the previous lap, Kimi Raikkonen was in a similar situation and he backed off, not to cause an accident."
Ironically after the European GP Maldonado had the right idea, just the wrong application when suggesting that Hamilton "would have been better if he had backed off a little bit and not driven so aggressively."
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