Race officials changed their minds midway through the Bahrain Grand Prix, leading to confusion and uncertainty over what was considered track limits.
Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton with four laps to go in this morning’s race. However, the Red Bull driver had put all four wheels over the white line to get past the Brit.
Race control made Verstappen give up the place, a decision he reluctantly accepted.
Hamilton would win the race after Verstappen failed to re-catch the race leader for one final attack.
The overtake occurred at turn four, a corner that for the first half of the race saw most of the field run wide at and ignore the circuit’s limits.
Despite being carefully policed during qualifying, the FIA had said they would not be monitoring track limits during the race.
Hamilton was one of several drivers to run wide at turn four during the grand prix on multiple occasions until race officials decided halfway through the race to reverse their initial ruling.
That led to what race winner Hamilton labelled as a ‘confusing’ period. He was suddenly warned he would be penalised if he continued to abuse track limits at turn four despite doing so ‘legally’ for the first half of the race.
Ultimately, the decision played into Hamilton’s favour during the final few laps in his showdown with Verstappen.
“I think it is very confusing,” Hamilton said.
“Most tracks, we’re not allowed to put four wheels outside of the white line, but this weekend and that particular corner we weren’t allowed to on Friday – you can go outside the line, but you can’t go past the kerb.
“But in the race, you can. And that was what had been written.
“Halfway through the race, they changed their minds. All of a sudden, you were not allowed to go outside that white line.
“So, I’m grateful for the call. It meant that Max wasn’t able to overtake off track.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said post-race that race officials need to outline track limit rules clearly to all teams before the race.
“I’m equally confused like you,” Wolff said. “At the beginning of the race, it was said track limits in turn four wouldn’t be sanctioned.
“Then, in the race, we heard that if you would continue to run wide, it would be seen as an advantage and could cause a potential penalty.
“In the end, that decision made us win the race. Max ran wide in the race director’s definition, gaining an advantage, he had to give back the position, and that saved our victory.
“So, we need to be consistent in which messages are being given. They need to be clear, they need to be sacred and not a Shakespeare novel that leaves interpretation.”
FIA race director Michael Masi said the initial rules laid out to the drivers did allow for drivers to run over the white lines at turn four.
However, he defended that he had made it clear that no one could overtake outside those lines, both before and after he reversed his decision mid-race.
“If a overtake takes place with a car off-track, and gains a lasting advantage, I will go on the radio and suggest to the team that they immediately relinquish that position,” Masi said.
“That was made very clear.
“We had two people that were looking in that area, at 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 or whatever it was, but it wasn’t a constant thing.”