Debate: Was Hamilton’s restart legal?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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

Related links