FIA race director Charlie Whiting has provided a detailed explanation on why Lewis Hamilton avoided a penalty for going off track at the first turn in the Mexico Grand Prix and how his incident differed to Max Verstappen who was hit by a time penalty for the same move.
In an unprecedented move by Whiting to clear up discussion between drivers and the media, the FIA race director presented a series of incidents from the controversial Mexico race and how the stewards came to their decision.
Using video replays during the drivers' press conference, Whiting says Hamilton backed off to '80% throttle' immediately after running off track at turn one to ensure the advantage he gained on the opening lap was neutralised.
Comparing it to Verstappen's incident, Whiting says with the Red Bull driver failing to slow after running off track to reduce his advantage he was duly hit by a five second penalty upon a review of the evidence and data.
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“I think the principle difference between the two is with Lewis he didn't gain a lasting advantage while in Max's case he did,” Whiting said. “Lewis made a small mistake at the beginning, cuts across and gains significant track advantage but then giving it back immediately.
"We can see on the straights and between turn three and four he backs off to 80% throttle to give that advantage back. Then about a minute later the safety car is deployed and that advantage is gone completely. So, the stewards felt there was no lasting advantage.
“In the case of Max and Sebastian if Max had done the same thing on the straight between turns three and four he certainly have lost a place so that is why the stewards felt he deserved his penalty because he had gained a lasting advantage. That is the fundamental difference between the two.”
When asked whether the safety car immediately after the opening lap had any influence on the stewards' decision on Hamilton Whiting refuted the idea by focusing on the throttle data which showed the Mercedes driver handing himself a penalty by slowing down.
“We were going to ask Lewis to back right off to ensure he maintained a safe distance but we could see from the data he had already backed off significantly and the VSC was deployed followed by the safety car so there was no need to take any further action,” he said. “Had that not happened then we would have done.”
Naturally, Hamilton agreed with the decision while Verstappen disagreed with the different results in each incident and suggested any time a driver deliberately goes off track he should be given an automatic penalty.
“I don't agree with the decision but it doesn't make a lot of difference,” Verstappen said. “I think if you give penalties you should give them to both or don't give any penalties.
“I think what we maybe need to change in the future is making going off the track a penalty straightaway instead of the stewards interfering and deciding. Once we come up with a solution for it that should be the penalty.”
Hamilton says he sympathises with the race stewards' situation as he feels the two separate incidents deserved the different outcomes, contrary to Verstappen's opinion.
However, the British driver did agree with the Dutchman on F1 drivers need to work with stewards to provide a clearer process in the future.
“I agree with Charlie's comments. Ultimately the stewards have a very difficult job as every scenario is different and in mine the safety car came out immediately after my incident was resolved,” Hamilton said.
“Every scenario is a little bit different and it is not easy to apply the same thing to every incident. I also agree with Max that we should work with Charlie to try to make it easier for them to make decisions for them to be clearer.”
Hamilton went on to win the Mexican Grand Prix to close the championship deficit to 19 points on Nico Rosberg, while Verstappen finished fourth in the final classification after Sebastian Vettel was handed a 10-second time penalty for moving under braking.
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