A moment of quick-thinking from Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton was key to rescuing an unlikely P2 finish at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix following a rare error.

Hamilton admitted that he was in “too much of a hurry” when he slid off the track at Tosa while trying to lap George Russell’s Williams during his pursuit of race-leader Max Verstappen on Lap 31.

It looked as though the race was over for the seven-time world champion with his Mercedes propped up against the tyre barriers, but after a lengthy spell in the gravel trap, Hamilton was able to engage the reverse gear in his W12 and slowly navigate his way back onto the track.

F1 Emilia-Romagna 2021 | Formula 1 Race Review | Imola Circuit

By this point, Hamilton found himself a lap down in ninth, but he was able to get back on the lead lap when his teammate Valtteri Bottas and Russell had a massive high-speed crash that brought out the red flags.

After the restart, Hamilton turned in a brilliant recovery drive to claim second place behind Verstappen and preserve his slender championship lead in the process.

Explaining his mindset and escape from the gravel, Hamilton said: “It just wouldn’t go to reverse. I was holding the reverse button and it took forever to engage. I didn’t think it was going to work.

“I tried reversing and tried to do a burnout spin to get going but ended up back in the barrier. It took a long time to get it back into reverse

“When I was reversing I was like ‘I’ve just got to keep going backwards’ and work my way out in reverse. If I hadn’t done that I would probably still be there now.”

The incident prompted some suggestions that Hamilton’s actions in rejoining the circuit were dangerous and broke the rules. But in this particular case, the FIA saw nothing wrong with what Hamilton did and found no reason to investigate the matter further. 

While the Sporting Regulations do state that cars cannot be reversed in the pit lane under their own power, there is no specific rule against reversing onto a live race track.

Nico Rosberg and Verstappen were both cleared for reversing back onto the racing line during qualifying and practice sessions at the 2014 and 2018 Monaco Grands Prix respectively. 

However, Hamilton was reprimanded when he was found to have reversed his car in the Bahrain pitlane in 2016.

The only time reversing onto a live track would catch the attention of the stewards was if it was done to in an unsafe manner.

“What it was, was reversing out of the gravel trap to the edge of the circuit,” said F1 race director Michael Masi.

"Listening to Lewis’ radio between he and his team, they were absolutely advising him all the way through where that was. In that particular circumstance, I wouldn’t consider reporting that to the stewards.

“It’s a case-by-case basis, you need to review the complete set of circumstances that are set around it.”