The F1 Bahrain GP ended up a fighting note but not without a controversy as the tussle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen did raise some question marks.
Though a nail-biting race by all accounts, the F1 season-opening Bahrain GP was not without controversy. Ending with a tight battle between leaders Red Bull’s Verstappen and Mercedes’ Hamilton, the moment which has sparked much debate came when, after passing for the lead late in the race at the much talked about Turn 4.
Verstappen allowed Hamilton past at Turn 10 to avoid penalisation, as the Dutchman was also instructed to do so by Red Bull, who were told the same by the FIA. As noted, it was at Turn 4, which had been hotly debated all-weekend long. It came to light even further when a radio call was made to both the drivers regarding not to use it often.
Both Hamilton and Verstappen got the call, where the former was asked to not do it again as warned by the FIA, while the latter initially didn’t do it but started doing it when Red Bull spotted others using it. However, the team came back to tell him stop it. It is unclear how many F1 drivers did it, but fans noted that the Brit may have done it more than 25 times.
Many pointed out that the regulations allow for off-track excursions without penalty, but do not allow for overtaking when not on the circuit. Others, however, questioned why the regulations would make a distinction between ‘gaining a lasting advantage’ when racing another car, versus when any advantage gained by leaving the circuit, even when not racing, could indirectly lead to an overtake.
This remained a contentious point post-race between Hamilton and Verstappen, who had their opinions, while their team bosses Toto Wolff and Christian Horner gave their own verdict, along with FIA Race Director Michael Masi – the latter explaining that the rule was never changed over the course of the grand prix and that they always maintained that it will be monitored in terms of sporting regulations of gaining lasting advantage.
Here’s the views of Hamilton, Verstappen, Wolff, Horner and Masi on the abuse of Turn 4 plus on the Dutchman having to give back the place – as spoken in the press conference plus TV and also media sessions which included FormulaRapida.net, F1, Racefans, Motorsport Network, BBC, Reuters and more:
Hamilton: “I think it’s a difficult one. It was very confusing. Most tracks we’re not allowed to put four wheels outside the white line but this weekend on that particular corner we weren’t allowed to on Friday. In actual fact you could go two wheels outside the line but you can’t go past the blue and white kerb, but in the race you can, and that is what had been written so going into the race then you can.
“But it’s quite a different corner when you have to do one or the other in terms of approach, and it is faster when you can go out, but then whatever is the boundary when you are overtaking? You’re not allowed to overtake off track but halfway through the race, they basically changed their minds and all of a sudden you’re not allowed to go outside that white line, which is fine for me. It’s actually… I think it’s faster in the end for me, it helped me look after my tyres actually, so I’m grateful for the call and ultimately it meant that Max wasn’t able to overtake off track.”
Verstappen: “Throughout the race I was told that people were going wide so they told me to do the same because you do gain lap time doing it, so I did, and then at one point they told me not to do it any more. I don’t know. In qualifying it was not allowed, your lap time got deleted and so I don’t know how it got to the point where people were doing it without getting warnings but at the end of the day, when I was fighting Lewis, I went outside of the track limits, so I think quite quickly the race director was onto us to tell me to give the position back to him and that’s exactly what I did. I got the call in Turn 8, on the exit so I let him by out of 10, because between 8 and 10 it’s a bit tricky to do that and then I tried again. Just didn’t have the grip any more.”
Wolff: “I am equally confused [about the rules]. At the beginning of the race it was said track limits in Turn 4 wouldn’t be sanctioned. And then in the race suddenly we heard that if you would continue to run wide it would be seen as an advantage and could cause a potential penalty. Which we debated with the race director but there’s nothing we could have done. It was even if he makes that call, then that’s it. And then at the end that decision actually made us win the race.
“Max ran wide in the definition of the race director, gaining an advantage, he had to give back the position and that saved our victory. So we need to be consistent in in which messages are being given. They need to be clear, they need to be sacred and not a Shakespeare novel that leaves interpretation. The message that reached the drivers was that very simply track limits in Turn 4 wouldn’t be sanctioned in the race.
“Ron and I were speaking to Michael during the race, that Michael referred to the note saying that, yes, but only if you’re not gaining an advantage and that was in the notes. I haven’t seen them. So I think the learning of this is it needs to be simple, so everybody can understand it and they don’t need to carry the document in the car to read it and remind themselves what actually is allowed and what not.”
Horner: “Max was nursing a little bit of an issue, how big of an effect that had I don’t know, but it was great racing. Unfortunately, he got the pass, obviously got run out wide there and was instructed to give the place back – which he did immediately. I don’t know whether [or not] Max got dirt on the tyres, he had a moment behind Lewis with a couple of laps to go and that seemed to give Lewis enough of a breather. Once you’ve got that instruction, You’ve got to move out of the way and he did that. It was fair racing, it was tough racing.”
Masi: “Regarding Verstappen’s move, Red Bull were actually given an instruction immediately by myself, that I suggested that they relinquish that position as listed in the Sporting Regulations, which they did. It wasn’t for exceeding the track limits. It was for gaining a lasting advantage by overtaking another car off the racetrack. And as for the other matter of rules, no, nothing changed at all.
“We had two people that were looking in that area Turn 4, every car every lap, and pretty much every car, bar one, was doing the right thing within what we expected in a general sequence. There was the occasional car that had a bit of a moment and went out there but it wasn’t a constant thing. With regard to the tolerance given to people running outside of the track limits during the race, it was mentioned very clearly in the Friday driver’s meeting in the notes that it would not be monitored with regards to setting the lap time, so to speak.
“However, it will always be monitored in accordance with the sporting regulations being a lasting advantage must not be gained. The notes were updated between FP1 and FP2 as a result of what we were seeing. And it was made very clear that in the practice and qualifying that it would be all four wheels to the left of the red and white curve. So there was nothing, nothing changed during the race, not nothing changed at all during the race.”
Here’s how F1 Bahrain GP panned out