The penalty points which had pushed Lewis Hamilton close to a Formula 1 race ban have been rescinded by Russian GP stewards.
In a revised verdict around the two time penalties issued to Hamilton during Sunday’s race for making pre-race practice starts in the wrong place, stewards removed the accompanying two penalty licence points after receiving clarification from Mercedes that it had been them who had been at fault and not the driver.
F1’s world champion team were fined €25,000 (£22,815) instead.
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“The Stewards received information from the team that the driver of car 44 had received a team instruction to perform the practice start in the incorrect place,” read a revised stewards’ statement.
“This was confirmed by the Stewards having listened to the audio between the team and the driver.
“Based on this information the Stewards replace document 47 with this decision and therefore remove the penalty points imposed.”
The two penalty points had taken Hamilton on to 10 points for the last 12 months – just two away from an automatic one-race suspension.
He now reverts to eight superlicence points, four away from a ban. Hamilton does not drop any points until November 17, two days after the Turkish GP in four races’ time, so will have to remain vigilant.
Radio communication between Hamilton and Peter Bonnington, his race engineer, aired on the world TV feed revealed Hamilton had asked if he could move further along the pit exit lane after initially stopping in the area that had designated for practice starts by the FIA.
Lewis Hamilton: “It’s all rubber here, can I go further out?”Bonnngton: “Affirm.”Hamilton: “To the end of the pit wall?”Bonnington: “Yeah, copy. Try and leave enough room for cars to get past.”
Hamilton therefore moved further down the slip road, contravening the race directors’ notes which stated that “drivers should have made their practice starts as ‘defined as the place “on the right hand side” after the pit exit lights (and is not part of the track as defined by lines).'”
After reviewing video evidence, stewards issued Hamilton in the early stages of the race with two five-second penalties for twice contravening the rules.
He eventually finished third behind Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen, reducing his championship lead to 44 points.
Evidently frustrated by the turn of events afterwards, F1’s six-time champion hit out at both the time penalty and the licence points – calling both “ridiculous”.
“I did not harm anybody, I didn’t put anyone in harm’s way so ultimately it’s a ridiculous rule,” said Hamilton. “I’ll just make sure I’m squeaky clean moving forwards, don’t give them any excuse for anything.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff suggested that the wording explaining what was permitted with practice starts had been open to interpretation and that they “agree to disagree” with the stewards penalising Hamilton.
“The stewards said it’s not the place where you would do a race start and I agree with that,” said Wolff to Sky F1. “But in the director’s notes, you can make practice starts after the lights on the right hand side. And that’s what he did.
“So there is room for interpretation and we clearly have to analyse why we made the mistake altogether and just take this one on the chin even though with the stewards, we agree to disagree.”