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. Unfortunately, officials cannot decide on an incident on the basis of whether it is fair or not, Craig; they have to interpret the rule as it is written and sometimes rules have unexpected and very unfair effects. I agree with you that it should be illegal for a car to be returned to the track by crane but the point is that, at the moment, it seems not to be so. Now that the incident has occurred and caused so much discussion, I have no doubt that the FIA will add a few more rules to cover that sort of situation.

    Life is unfair and there will always be incidents that are not adequately covered by rules. No matter how hard we try to imagine strange scenarios and attempt to write rules to cover any eventuality, you can bet that life will think of something nobody has even dreamed of; it’s a principle sometimes described as Sod’s Law, I believe. And when that happens, we write a new rule to cover it – but, in the meantime, someone has slipped through the loophole. Unfair it may be but, hey, that’s life!

  2. The first priority of marshals working in a “dangerous area”, as Turn 1 clearly was, should be to make the area safe again. Since they could not make it truly safe (this requiring 20 minutes of bright sunshine, and the marshals don’t get a portable sun as part of their kit), all they could do was get the cars out of the way.

    I can see why Hamilton was high up on the priority list – the other cars were either damaged too badly to continue (e.g. Liuzzi’s suspension had broken) or the driver had already left the car (e.g. Button, who left his car just after Hamilton arrived in the gravel trap). As a result, they could crane Hamilton to the track edge – which was a somewhat quicker way of making the area safe than craning it over the barrier.

    Since restarting Hamilton cleared the area quicker than not, and no rules were actually broken in the process, I think the marshals made the right decision. Of course, the silly decision was not immediately red-flagging the event. The moment Adrian Sutil went off, it should have been obvious that relying on the cars getting back to their pits to put on extreme wets wasn’t going to work, even with a Safety Car…

  3. Isabelle said on 26th July 2007, 22:12

    Well as I see it now anyone can call the crane to put them back on the track. Wait till the next car spins off. It’s going to be great ¿will Ecclestone have a o800 number as a travel assistance?

    They shold have never allowed Hamilton to go on and he was not in a dangerous plce for other drivers.

  4. It should be about safety 1st no matter what, imagine the next time someone goes off, are they going to expect to be air lifted back on track…..The line has to be drawn somewhere…Ridiculous…IMHO

  5. I think Clive spelled it out the best.

    The situation does not have a clear explanation in the rulebook because it should not exist!

    I don’t think FIA officials may be specifically to blame as much as the local track’s marshalls, and this repeats a previous comment I’ve made wondering just how much powers the marshalls are or should be given. I believe that the instant a second car started sliding into the same trap, someone should have been frantically waving red flags.

    Based on the reading of the rules, there was absolutely no reason for a marshall to have put Hamilton’s car back on the track; if Lewis thought he could continue it was up to him to wait while the cranes cleared all other obstacles, and then it was his responsibility to try and back his car onto the track. It would not surprise me if the cranelifting decision was made by someone in the corner that did not know that aspect of the rules.

  6. rob said on 27th July 2007, 23:47

    If the driver is british and is driving a british car is definitely “LEGAL”!!!!!!!


  7. Daniel said on 28th July 2007, 0:03

    A few rules that were broken by the marshalls.
    1. “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.” Which, obviously it wasn’t.

    2. “…WITHOUT GAINING ANY ADVANTAGE FROM THE PRECEDING MOVEMENT OF THE CAR TO A SAFER POSITION, he/she will not be excluded from the race.” Hamilton gained a very large advantage by being placed in a safer place, back on the track, and being allowed to continue.

    As I see it there really is no ‘grey area’ here, simply a blatent disregard by the FIA for their own rules in order to insure their interests, namely that Lewis Hamilton-their money maker, is allowed to race.

  8. Kidkosmic said on 10th October 2007, 23:45

    I think that it’s only a matter of common sense…!

    I agree with everyone who says that it was illegal the assistance that hamilton received with the crane… but… I think is fair and legal to receive outside assistance when someone get stuck on grave.

    Grave is only used for safety reasons, to reduce the maxium speed of a car when it gets out of the circuit to prevent dangerous injuries (I’m sure we all knew that), but even without rain or anything, if someone gets there accidentally and get stucked, it is most than acceptable than that person should receive outside assistance…
    It’s not acceptable to be forced to finish a race because of the grave… I think so… maybe i’m wrong… but still I think that’s why alonso didn’t receive assistance at the bus stop at SPA circuit… On grass you are at your own… it’s up to you… Just check the latest situations and you’ll see it…

    And also… for example… Let’s suppose that in the monaco GP some car turns (for any reason) 180 degrees and there’s no ratio to turn around… What’ll happend!??..

    Anyway (and after all), always is the marshalls choice. ’bout that, I really don’t want to talk about.!

  9. I think it is an illegal move, the rules you post only confirm that…

    Cranes are only to remove cars! Moving a car with a crane, with the pilot inside, is a security treat…

    It is a mtter of luck that Hamilton could not score points…

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