Tue. Sep 28th, 2021

The FIA has issued more detailed instructions around the practice start rules for the Eifel Grand Prix, two weeks after Lewis Hamilton’s controversial penalties in Russia.

Hamilton was hit with a pair of five-second time penalties at Sochi for conducting an out-of-position practice start during a reconnaissance lap prior to the grand prix.

He had gone past the designated area at the pitlane exit and stopped at the pit exit road on the right-hand side, with he and his Mercedes team contesting that the FIA’s instructions to stop “on the right-hand side after the pit exit lights” were vague.

The stewards viewed it as a clear infringement and race director Michael Masi later suggested the instructions were clear enough as there were no other transgressions.

Masi defended the lack of visual identification of the Sochi practice start area, saying “generally, we don’t paint a box, we just specify a location” and when asked if a painted box would help in the future replied: “It’s very much a circuit specific element of where it is.

“Today was just a simple error from that perspective.”

However, ahead of F1’s return to the Nurburgring this weekend, the pre-event notes from the race director contain much more specific instructions.

A first version was circulated in the morning and then updated later on to include two diagrams indicating where the practice starts will be allowed during practice sessions and before the race itself.

“During each practice session, practice starts may only be carried out on the right-hand side prior to the derestriction line indicated by the white grid marking,” Masi has written in his notes.

This grid marking is pictured clearly below.

“Drivers wishing to carry out a practice start should stop on the right in order to allow other cars to pass on their left.”

As for practice starts ahead of the race, practice starts may place in the pit exit road itself.

This is not unusual as the FIA allows that at other circuits subject to track layout, although the FIA indicated it was not permitted at Sochi because of the obscured view before the pitlane exit.

At the Nurburgring, drivers will be allowed to proceed halfway down the exit road to a point denoted by an orange band on the outside barrier – pictured below.

“During the time the pit exit is open for the race, practice starts may be carried out after the end of the pit wall and adjacent to the orange band on the right-hand side barrier,” Masi wrote.

“Drivers wishing to carry out a practice start should stop on the right in order to allow other cars to pass on their left.”

A driver who stops to carry out a practice start before the race may also cross the white line that separates the pit exit from the track, but they must “move back to the right of it as quickly as possible”.

These instructions from Masi leave no room for interpretation and should prevent a repeat of what happened in Russia.

Hamilton’s penalties stoked major debate over whether the FIA contributed to the confusion and whether the punishment of in-race penalties fit the crime.

There was also confusion as it emerged after the weekend that Charles Leclerc had escaped punishment for performing a practice start out of position at Spa.

However, the FIA dismissed that on the grounds Leclerc was only a short distance past the designated area and not in a dangerous position, unlike Hamilton.

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