Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Schumacher's pass: Legal or not?

The major talking point to arise from Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix was an incident right at the final corner of the final lap when Michael Schumacher dived up the inisde of Fernando Alonso to take 6th position. This was after the safety car had been deployed but pulled in on the final lap. 3 hours after the race the stewards decided to penalise the German 20 seconds, dropping him out of the points.

The fact that the decision took that long is an indicator in itself of how difficult interpreting the regulations are and the case that both sides had. Lets look at the key regulations involved.

40.4 When the order is given to deploy the safety car the message "SAFETY CAR DEPLOYED" will be displayed on the timing monitors and all marshal's posts will display waved yellow flags and "SC" boards for the duration of the intervention.

40.11 When the clerk of the course decides it is safe to call in the safety car the message "SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP" will be displayed on the timing monitors and the car's orange lights will be extinguished This will be the signal to the teams and drivers that it will be entering the pit lane at the end of that lap.

As the safety car is approaching the pit entry the yellow flags and SC boards will be withdrawn and replaced by waved green flags with green lights at the Line. These will be displayed until the last car crosses the Line.

40.13 If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.

This season, racing can begin from the first safety car line which is usually around the pit entry area. Ferrari, as well as the other teams active in the race, did not think however that there would be overtaking on the last lap as they believed that 40.13 was in effect. There interpretation of the rules were that as the safety car had began the final lap on track, this meant that 40.13 was now in effect. Ross Brawn felt that because the safety car had been called in, that meant that the race was back on from the first safety car line to the finish.

The other issue in this is the green flags that were waving as well as the electronic boards flashing green after the first safety car line. These are usually used to indicate the track is clear and prohibitions under previous yellow flags are now gone. If 40.13 was in force, as the stewards decided it was, should we have had yellow flags and SC boards out until the end of the race. This was the case when the 2009 Australain Grand Prix finished under similiar conditions. However in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix, green flags are waving after the safety car pulls in but before the finish line which used to be the point where racing resumed so there is certainly an area of inconsistency. An important point however is that Schumacher did not suddenly start racing when he saw the green flags. He was already on the lookout for any opportunities before they came into play.

This is something i've found hard to call myself. At the time of watching the race I didn't even know about 40.13 and felt that Schumacher's overtake was legit. I can see how Ross Brawn is seing the situation in terms of the safety car being pulled in. I believe that this was just a procedural move by Race Control. The 40.13 article really can only apply if the safety car starts the final lap as it will never pull off the track at halfway, it will always pull off at the pit entry. It could have been a bit clearer and Schumacher was unfortunate to lose all his points. However i feel article 40.13 intercedes against the other key articles and therefore no overtaking should be allowed and the decision to penalise Schuamcher was correct. Hopefully there will now be at least more clarity to the issue surrounding safety car restarts.

There was inconsistency though. If safety car conditions applied then I feel we should have remained with yellow flags and safety car boards. We could have had a message from race control saying no overtaking to the line but they would argue its the responsibilty of the teams to know the regualtions. Mercedes are appealing the decision but can't appeal the actual penalty. Through all of this, Alonso and Schumacher had good drives. The German has improved at the European races. For Alonso, he is still firmly in the championship hunt

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