Debate: Was Hamilton’s restart legal?

Lewis Hamilton, Scott Speed, Nurburgring, 2007 - Photo: GEPA pictures/ Bildagentur KraelingJenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Adrian Sutil and Scott Speed all found themselves in the gravel on the outside of turn on after a downpour at the start of last weekend’s race.

Button, Rosberg, Liuzzi, Sutil and Speed all retired.

Hamilton waited in the car with his engine turned on, got dragged out by a crane, restarted, and even got back the lap he lost.

Now, how is that legal? And even if it is legal, is it right?

The internet has been buzzing with discussion about the rules and regulations governing how Hamilton managed to restart not only with outside assistance but with the help of a crane.

There have been past instances of drivers controversially rejoining races after getting outside help. Michael Schumacher did at the same track in 2003. But Fernando Alonso found no such help when he spun at Monza in 2004.

But Hamilton was moved by a crane, which as far as I am aware is unprecedented. Does that not violate article 20.1 of the sporting regulations?:

The driver must drive the car alone and unaided.

Article 30.7 adds:

Save as specifically authorised by the Code or these Sporting Regulations, no one except the driver may touch a stopped car unless it is in the paddock, the team’s designated garage area, the pit lane or on the starting grid.

However Appendix H, Chapter III of the International Sporting Code tells us:

If a car stops on the course, or leaves the track, the first duty of the course marshals in that sector is to take it to a place of safety. No driver has the right to refuse to allow his car to be taken off the track, he must do everything he can to help and obey the marshals’ instructions.

Once the car is in a place of safety the driver may, if the specific regulations of the event permit, work on it in order to re-start. In such cases other means, such as breakdown vehicles, cranes, etc. should not be brought into action until the driver has made it clear that he will not continue.

It is desirable that the driver stays near his vehicle until the end of the race or at least informs the post chief how his car may be lifted, or towed back to the pits.

Was Hamilton’s car in a place of safety? At the time it crashed it clearly wasn’t, but when the race was being run behind the safety car and red flagged, then surely it was.

Muddying the waters further is the FIA International Sporting Code Appendix L Chapter IV.3 which states:

Should a driver be compelled to stop his/her car, either involuntarily or for any other reason, the car shall be moved off the track as soon as possible so that its presence does not constitute a danger or prevent the normal running of the race.

If the driver is not able to move the car out of the potentially dangerous position, it is the duty of the marshals or other officials to help. In that case, if the driver succeeds in re-starting the car without any external help, and rejoins the race without committing any breach of the regulations and without gaining any advantage from the preceding movement of the car to a safer position, he/she will not be excluded from the race.

So, were the marshalls correct in using the crane to move Hamilton’s car into a position from which he could continue, given that its engine had not stopped?

Was Hamilton’s continued participation in the race legal?

Why did none of the other drivers that crashed continue?

Does this set a fair and reasonable precedent for future races?

Should the FIA not have clarified this thorny problem by now?

Photo: GEPA pictures/ Bildagentur Kraeling

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24 comments on Debate: Was Hamilton’s restart legal?

  1. Cooperman said on 26th July 2007, 7:52

    A grey area in the rules of F1?
    Surely not!

  2. the question i have is “did the marshals unfairly prioritise Lewis?”

    i haven’t checked this, but when the tractor arrived on the scene, did it not head straight for the mclaren? and should it not have first cleared say the honda (as it had to pass the Honda and one of the STR cars to reach Lewis).

    where was the tractor heading when Liuzzi hit it?

    final point, should the marshals (and the big yellow death trap) have even been near the cars given that it was clear more and more vehicles were heading off track? has they waiting until was safe (race was stopped), they’d have no excuse to bring the man back to the track.

  3. Nathan Jones said on 26th July 2007, 8:29

    1stly it dun matter becuase he didnt score any pts, if he had’ve finished 7th and got 2 pts then won title by 1 then yer, but he didnt so it really doesnt matter
    and no, they should not have been there while more cars were coming in!
    Liuzzi is very lucky he didnt hit that tractor harder and head on!

  4. Actually Nathan your point about him not scoring any points is not necessarily true. If he and another driver were to be tied on points at the end of the season, with the same numbers of 1sts, 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, 7ths and 8ths, then Hamilton’s 9th could swing it. Not likely, I’ll grant you, but it could happen and similar things have happened in the junior leagues.

  5. I watched this race on the Star TV. The commentators were first surprised Hamilton is back, then again when they allowed him to unlap himself. Few minutes later explanation came, that Hamilton was allowed to get back to the race, because he slipped off the track after the race was suspended. This was clearly not the case …
    The whole mess with crane was one dangerous excercise, there was at least on car that barely missed the crane when sliding off the track.
    In my view, Hamilton racing was not legal, he should not have been allowed to join the restart. It does not matter where he finished the race, just his presence on the track can affect performance of other drivers, those lapping him, those who have to push harder and risk more to keep ahead of him etc…

  6. Journeyer said on 26th July 2007, 9:25

    Lewis didn’t score any points, and the tiebreaker rule is VERY unlikely, so no discussion is needed.

    BUT, the FIA needs to issue a clarification on this rule. They said they thought it was legal. They need to issue a statement explaining why so.

    Sadly, Stepneygate is keeping them busy enough.

  7. It seems to me that the important points are these:

    Should the marshals have come out to work on the cars at all in the circumstances? Although I did not see them, I must presume that yellow flags were being waved and, normally, the marshals would start to get the cars out of the way in that case. But this was not a normal circumstance; cars were still sliding off the track and it is quite amazing that no-one was hit.

    The rules do not cover this, of course, stating merely that “the first duty” of the marshals is to get a beached car to safety. So, by a strict reading of the rules, they were doing the right thing, even though it endangered their own lives and those of the drivers.

    Then we come to the matter of which car should be moved first. My memory may be wrong in this, but I think another car was moved before Hamilton’s. Was not the crane moving a car away from the track when Liuzzi arrived rather suddenly? It was only after it had dealt with this first one that the crane turned to Hamilton’s McLaren.

    Once again, the rules are not designed for this specific situation, a multiple pile-up (my contention is that the race should have been stopped immediately – I have seen races red-flagged for less), but the marshals were presumably attending to the cars in the most dangerous situation first (not easy to judge when other cars are still arriving). The McLaren was closer to the track than the rest and was therefore in the most danger of being struck by yet another arrival. The quickest way to deal with it would be to put it back on the road, especially as the driver was still in it and the engine running.

    Hamilton effectively dodged almost all the regulations by keeping the engine going; the rules are written from the assumption that the car has broken down, hence the mention of the driver working on it (boy, that’s an old survival). The only way he could be said to have contravened any rule is the statement “In such cases other means, such as breakdown vehicles, cranes, etc. should not be brought into action until the driver has made it clear that he will not continue.” Lewis must have indicated to the marshals that he wanted to continue, so it could be said (if you were being pedantic) that this rule makes use of the crane illegal. But the cases referred to are those in which the driver works on the car; in Hamilton’s case, there was no need to since it was still running.

    So it seems to me that Hamilton’s continuing the race was legal because it was not illegal. If the rule ain’t written, you can’t break it. And the other drivers disqualified themselves for similar assistance by having engines that stopped and by getting out of their cars.

    As to whether the cars were in unsafe positions after the pace car came out, they certainly were, as demonstrated by Liuzzi’s narrow avoidance of the pace car. Conditions were so bad at that corner that the deployment of the pace car was no guarantee that more cars were not going to aquaplane off the road.

    I believe that the incident has not set a precedent but shown a loophole in the rules that needs to be covered. For safety reasons, it would be very unwise to allow cranes to be returning cars to the track while other cars are still circulating – again, Liuzzi demonstrated why.

    Should the FIA have clarified by now? I’m quite sure they would have, if only they could sort out the tangle of the rules themselves. ;)

  8. Bart said on 26th July 2007, 10:15

    I think Clive has summed up everything perfectly here!

    This loophole needs to get closed right now. Just make a rule that if a driver indicates he wants help, or he needs it because of a dangerous position he cannot remove himself from, he’s out of the race, even if his engine is still running.

  9. ..he’s out of the race, even if his engine is still running.

    Id personally rather see a driver carry on racing if at all possible.

  10. Number 38 said on 26th July 2007, 13:04

    My view is more “common sense” that perrusing through the FIA regs book. Marshalls DO prioritize and sometimes blatantly. Why would they do such things? Consider what is more ‘value’ to the event, getting Hamilton going again who WILL provide entertainment or getting Button going again who most definately WILL NOT. Hamilton to his credit kept his engine running and that no doubt moved him up the list FURTHER ! Loopholes and precedent, bah Humbug! There are too regs, even the FIA needs lawyers to read the stinking book. The part that ruins the “sporting aspect of the sport” is the deadwood running the show get minutes, hours even days to make decisions, they can hold meetings and review tapes, they can even change their decisions, etc …………the driver gets a nano-second; ONCE!

  11. It is not good to see. It just doesn’t seem right to see a car that has been beached on the gravel trap get a helping hand from the marshals to allow the driver to continue to race. But Michael Schumacher succeeded in doing it, so until this ridiculous loophole is closed by the FIA, it is fair game. As far as I’m concerned, if Schumacher got away with it, so should Hamilton (even if it did involve a crane).

  12. SoLiD said on 26th July 2007, 14:01

    I think it’s pretty simple.

    When a car is in an unsafe place, he needs to be removed…
    In this special case you had several cars crash out in the same place… wich probably has also resulted in problems with space for the crashed cars …
    but hey look … someone kept his car running … so that could be why he was put back on track, as that was the easiest way to get him safe and safe a spot for the other cars.

  13. Fer no.65 said on 26th July 2007, 14:37

    It was illegal…

    Not only if was unfair for Rosberg, Liuzzi, Speed, Stuil and all that were walking to the boxes convinced they were out.

    It wasn’t a honest move if you ask me.

    I remembr Schumacher (i think it was also at the N-ring) while fighting with Montoya, he lost the rear and got stuck in the gravel, but only his rear wheels. So the marshalls pushed him and he could continue.

    But then you have Alonso at Spa 2004, while fighting with Montoya (correct me if i’m wrong) at the bus stop, he also spun off (or both touched, so he spun off) and was in a dangerous situation. He wanted the marshalls to push him. But they refused, and Fernando left the car right there.

    FIA always make uncertain decisions. Always.

  14. Fer no.65 has a point, although it has no bearing on the legality of Hamilton’s unexpected rescue from the gravel. Whether it was fair, honest or anything else matters not if the rule declares it legal.

    To the list of inconsistencies of rule application by the FIA, you can add the occasion when Senna and Prost clashed at Suzuka in the chicane. They came to rest together but Senna kept his engine going and was able, with assistance from the marshals, to disentangle his car from Prost’s. He continued and won the race but was disqualified for receiving outside assistance.

    Clearly, the FIA do make inconsistent decisions and I suspect that which way they go depends very much on what the driver’s name is and the make of car that he’s driving…

  15. At the time I thought that being lifted back onto the track was unfair and even if it’s not against the rules then it should be – and I still think that!

    If this continues then we will end up with drivers expecting the marshalls to put themselves in more and more dangerous situations just so that they can keep their race hopes alive – which I don’t think is the right thing to be doing.

    As for it not mattering in this case because Hamilton didn’t score any points, that’s nonsense – if someone’s broken or bent the rules then those rules were broken no matter what the outcome. On the public roads, if a driver is caught over the alcohol limit then they get punished no matter what, the police don’t follow them home and only punish them if they have an accident or kill someone!

    This incident may not have a bearing on the World Championship, but that’s no excuse for ignoring it for that fact alone.

    It’s not something that crops up very often, but it is something that needs to be clarified in my view.

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