Four of F1’s ‘unwritten rules’

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How do F1 drivers know when they\'ve pushed too far?

How do F1 drivers know when they've pushed too far?

At the Italian Grand Prix weekend driving standards was a hot topic again – hardly surprising given the furore over Lewis Hamilton’s penalty at Spa, and Monza’s combination of two tight chicanes plus a soaking wet track.

With Hamilton’s appeal against his penalty due to be heard on Monday 22nd September it’s a good time to try and clear up the vast grey areas surrounding the rules of racing in F1.

The only thing that has become clear about the rules of F1 racing during the past two events is how unclear the regulations are. The rules of racecraft occupy a tiny portion of the vast tomes of FIA regulations – the detail is supposedly filled out by a number of implicit or ‘unwritten rules’ though it can be hard to work out what they are by looking at past precedents.

What the rules do say

The regulations governing wheel-to-wheel racing in F1 are detailed in the Sporting Regulations (articles 16 and 30) and Appendix L to the International Sporting Code (Chapter IV, Article 2.g).

The latter is what Hamilton was punished under at Spa and simply reads:

The race track alone shall be used by the drivers during the race.

A rigid interpretation of that ruling would likely have seen hundreds of penalties dishes out over the Monza weekend during the GP2 and F1 races. Of course, these rules aren’t enforced to the letter, which is why the unwritten rules are so important. So what are these unwritten rules?

Cutting corners

Let’s start with the ‘unwritten rule’ that’s at the heart of the recent controversy: cutting corners.

Unwritten rule 1: You can cut a corner and gain an advantage if you’re defending

At Hungary in 2006 Pedro de la Rosa dived down the inside of Michael Schumacher at the turn six/seven chicane. Schumacher missed the chicane and kept the position. Fans who had been used to seeing drivers penalised for gaining an advantage by cutting the chicane were perplexed to see Schumacher not receive a penalty. Here’s a video showing the contentious move:

Afterwards de la Rosa spoke to the stewards who told him they’d ‘clarified’ the rules:

The position is that if you are not side by side with the driver ahead of you going into the chicane, then the driver who is ahead of you can jump the chicane and keep his position without being penalised.

Unwritten rule 2: If you cut a corner while attacking you can’t overtake your rival at the following corner

Leaving aside the vexed question of whether or not Hamilton had gained an advantage by cutting the chicane at Spa after he’d yielded his place to Raikkonen (see here for a debate about that), the stewards announced before Monza a change in the ‘unwritten rules’ about what happens when an attacking driver cuts a corner.

In future, they said, if a driver passes another in front of him by cutting a corner, not only must he give the place back, but he must not pass the driver at the following corner.

There’s a discussion of this new ‘unwritten rule’ and whether or not it contradicts past practice in this article.

Pushing a rival off the track

Should drivers ever be allowed to push their rivals off the track? I’m a bit uneasy about the idea but the stewards actually turn a blind eye to it in a lot of cases:

Unwritten rule 3: A defending driver can push their rival off the track

There’s actually quite a few examples of this happening. A famous one involved Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya on the first lap at Imola in 2004. Montoya had his Williams alongside Schumacher’s Ferrari at the exit of Tosa, but Schumacher pushed him off the track.

Schumacher stated in the press conference afterwards that he hasn’t seen Montoya (!) to which Montoya uttered his famous response that Schumacher must have been “blind or stupid”.

Similarly in 2003 Schumaher pushed Alonso off on the Hangar straight at Silverstone, to which Alonso reacted with outrage.

But Alonso’s no fool, and realised that if Schumacher was going unpunished for it he could to, so he pushed Hamilton off the track on the first lap at Spa last year. But Hamilton’s no fool, and he pushed Glock off the track at Monza last weekend. And Raikkonen did it to Hamilton at Spa.

It’s not pretty, and as F1 is usually preoccupied with being safe and desperate to improve overtaking opportunities, perhaps this is an unwritten rule we could do without?

Defensive driving

This often goes hand-in-hand with the above rule. It’s been tested a lot in recent years and I wrote a post about it in April when GP2 racer Romain Grosjean pushed the unwritten rule too far.

Unwritten rule 4: A defending driver may move off-line once to defend his position and then move back to his original line on the way into a corner, but cannot push a rival on that line off the track

In the run-up to the controversial move at Spa, Kimi Raikkonen gave a typical example of how to execute this move. He moved off the racing line to the right of the track to cover the inside of the corner, then moved across to the left to get the best line possible into the corner, while Hamilton was trying to pass him on the left-hand side.

What Raikkonen’s didn’t do was commit Grosjean’s error at the Circuit de Cataluinya. Grosjean pushed rival Kamui Kobayashi clean off the track when he moved to claim his line for the first corner:

Grosjean’s punishment was a drive-through penalty.

Hamilton was pulling the same move on Webber at Monza when the pair made contact. So had Hamilton broken the unwritten rule? Here’s the video of what happened:

I haven’t been able to look back at onboard footage from the cars but it looks to me as though Hamilton gave Webber – just barely – enough room for Webber to get into the corner without hitting the McLaren or going off the track. Webber’s car appears to slew slightly to the right before striking Hamilton’s wheel. It’s possible that Webber may have out-braked himself, which might have been a factor in the stewards’ thoughts.

But certainly, Hamilton cut this one extremely fine, if my interpretation of the ‘unwritten rule’ is accurate. He was probably only a few centimetres from getting another penalty.

Of course, if this were a written rather than unwritten rule it would probably be a lot easier to make a call on close decisions like this. And the same goes for the other unwritten rules.

A bizarre way to regulate a sport

It’s difficult to understand why important clarifications like this aren’t written down – either as hard-and-fast rules, or just guidelines to give stewards a bit of wiggle room.

Why aren’t these rules written down? Why are they apparently only covered them in drivers’ briefings? Do the FIA not want fans to understand the rules of the sport?

If a ‘clarification’ gets made in the briefing room ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix, but isn’t announced to the press, how are fans supposed to know what’s going on? And how do future drivers find out about them unless a charitable rival tells him (not likely)?

A cynic would suggest the stewards issue whatever decision comes into their head and then ‘clarify’ their position with ‘unwritten rules’ afterwards simply to look consistent. And ???ber-cynics would suggest they tend to favour one team when they do it.

Max Mosley gave a typically withering response to criticism of the FIA’s inconsistency and lack of transparency over the latest row:

It’s a reflection, and I’m sorry to say this, of the stupidity of the people who say it because they haven’t really thought the thing through and put themselves in the position of the people who have to take these very difficult decisions.

But when the rules as written give so little detail, and when the stewards issue ‘clarifications’ that seem to contradict past precedent, and when controversial decisions are published with so little reasoning (the Hamilton-Raikkonen incident was summarised in seven words), you have to question the sense of leaving important rules of race-craft shrouded in secrecy.

It’s like a trap designed to catch unlucky drivers out and give them arbitrary penalties. It’s almost as if Mosley gets some sort of thrill out of punishing people.

The comments on this article are split across multiple pages. If you are having trouble viewing them via the links below click here to see all comments.

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79 comments on Four of F1’s ‘unwritten rules’

  1. A bit off-topic but when Lewis hit Kimi (Montreal) was it Lewis or the press that claimed it was McLaren’s fault?

    Back on topic, I don’t think Lewis has any reasonable grounds upon which he could argue his case in the courtroom.

    The bottom line is whether the rule is regardless of the written or unwritten the question is did Lewis gain an advantage by cutting the corner.

    In the courtroom McLaren will need to prove FACTUALLY that Lewis would have been capable of overtaking Kimi even if he had taken the corner properly and been behind Kimi rather than alongside* him when he applied the throttle. That means that McLaren will need to show exactly how far behind Lewis would have been to Kimi at the exit of the corner and based on the grip available at the exit of the turn – which Lewis didn’t take, how much more acceleration would have been available to Lewis and would he have made the apex ahead of Kimi based on the available distance remaining. If they can’t prove this then the FIA lawyers will have a field day with McLaren and rightly so as I cannot remember when speculation beat fact in a courtroom. Can any of you?

    *-in my book he did not let Kimi go ahead enough to fairly replicate a realistic distance that would have existed had he taken the corner properly.

  2. That third paragraph should read:
    “The bottom line is regardless of the written or unwritten rule the simple question is did Lewis gain an advantage by cutting the corner.”

  3. NDINYO said on 17th September 2008, 9:59

    #48 Kate – last year Lewis apologised for most incidents on the track (to Kimi et al) and got lambasted for it by some french female journalist who thought he apologised too much – so there is why he no longer shows an iota of remorse. He did it and got equally bad PR so i can understand him deciding to not give a damn anymore.

    #47 Milos – there is a theory that maybe it is because he is black. For the time being i will go by the fact that it is because most of these infringements (save for canada) are when he overtaking or leading the pack and that if other drivers were more often in these positions as him, then one can say they would equally be in controversial limelight. This theory has a precedent in Michael Schumacher. However if it can be argued (and i get convinced) that he does not make that many overtaking moves nor lead the pack that often, then i would fall to the theory that he is black – but as i said, that would be a big if.

    However lately the attacks on Lewis have become so personal that it is impossible to carry on a logical debate on the incidents in which he is involved in. One wonders why for example a two time WDC would joke about being ****** if Lewis took away one of his records. How lame is that? Why for example do so many Lewis haters always argue that Kubica or Vettel are better drivers when Lewis beat them in lower Formulae and continues to beat them in Formula One with a performance record better than more experienced drivers. The “its the car silly” arguement has been defeated twice – first by him equaling Alonso in his rookie year and second by him blowing Heikki away this year.

    Regardless of the non-racing related controversies that surround Lewis, i would challenge any of the Lewis haters to point me in the direction of any CURRENT driver that would have lit up Silverstone, Spa and Monza the way this kid did this year. Lewis makes Formula One worth watching regardless of whether you support him or not. He makes you question your favorite driver. Lately he makes me wait up way after the race to see whether the race results were real. That is Lewis and frankly, after Max Mosley’s scandal, he is the reason most of you are watching Formula One

  4. Becken #50
    I believe it was Fisichella who crashed into Nakajima in Turkey.

  5. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th September 2008, 13:54

    Oliver – Yep, Though Fisichella blamed Bourdais… Video: Fisichella blames Bourdais for crash with Nakajima in Turkish GP

  6. Oliver – sorry, you´re right. Anyway, Kazuki still leads the crashes in what a driver has the fault.

    Keith – The team has asked Felipe to give the place back.

    NDINYO – Great, great comment, mate. Very true!

  7. Ndinyo – However lately the attacks on Lewis have become so personal that it is impossible to carry on a logical debate on the incidents in which he is involved in.

    I fully agree with you on this. Its becoming a bit unpleasant to be honest as this guy can just not do anything right in the eyes of those who dislike him. Im a big fan of Schumi and am used to people slamming him but I have not seen anything like the hatred for Lewis Hamilton.

  8. well said NDINYO, Alonso and Kimi were well worth watching through the final days of Schumacher but Lewis has filled the role as protagonist (or antagonist?) with aplomb. I hope he gets his points back since for me it makes absolutely no sense to have Massa as a winner. It would be like Liverpool winning agaisnt Man U and the 3points awarded to Chelsea. Sure he broke against the new clarification of the rule, but thats a clarification which came a week after the incident. Due to FIAs muddling, no rules were broken at the time of the ruling.

    Anyway, once again imagine the outcry if Hamilton was in Webbers position and vice versa. If Hamilton clipped into Webbers wheels from behind people would scream for blood and penalties, perhaps even more so.

  9. “…Anyway, once again imagine the outcry if Hamilton was in Webbers position and vice versa. If Hamilton clipped into Webbers wheels from behind people would scream for blood and penalties, perhaps even more so…”

    Very, very true, Jian.

    Doesn´t matter if Lewis is OUT SIDELINE of a curve (at SPA) or if he is IN SIDELINE of a curve (at MONZA). He is always guilty…

  10. You guys are going completely overboard by dragging racism and/or hatred as a factor when it clearly is not the case. Please be subjective over this and do not believe the hype that is the British media, I’ve lived in this country long enough to know when they are talking out of their backside.

  11. F1 is a motorsport spectacle developed by rich men. There is no democracy, nothing is fair or balanced. It is purely a event put on by very rich people to satisfy there competitive natures. Don’t expect rules or sportsmanship or fair play to ever come into the occasion when money is involved. Rules are bent payoffs are made and life goes on. If you think any professional sport in the world is fair and balanced you have must be on drugs.

  12. I’m aware of the politics in every aspect of life I argued with that point when the Max debates kicked off. But the thing with Lewis is not politics, he’s broken the rules and he’s been caught for them it’s just the British media that has basically gone on this mass crusade saying that people are out to victimise Lewis and McLaren.

    Yes in the whole spygate McLaren got the rough end of it while Renault got away scott free but there is where I would say politics between Flavio and Max was in full affect. Seriously if the FIA were so much anti-McLaren why allowe MES to develop the component that gets fitted in all the cars? Why not let Ferrari make it?

    Yes the FIA favours Ferrari no doubt but the thing with Lewis has nothing to do with Ferrari it’s Lewis and the British media causing problems for themselves. Lewis has still yet to grow up and when he does all this current crap that’s following him will go away.

  13. Steven Roy said on 18th September 2008, 20:34

    I don’t comment 72. You say the FIA favours Ferrari but that has nothing to do with how Lewis Hamilton is treated. As far as I can see he is the only threat to Ferrari therefore if the FIA are favouring them they must be doing the opposite to him.

    Why do those who want to attack him keep talking about what the British press say? All over the internet there are people like me who think he is beig unfairly treated. Are we just stupidly believing the British press and incapable of thikig for ourselves?

    McLaren got the rought end of the deal re spy stuff last year. I think $100 million versus zero is slightly more than the rough end of the deal. They also refused point blank to investigate Nigel Stepney’s comments that for every piece of info he gave Mike Coughlin he got a piece in return which he fed into Ferrari.

    Why allow MES to do the ECU? No doubt Max thought that Ron my be tempted to cheat using it an he could use that against him.

    So if Lewis stops doing what he is doing he will not be penalised? You don’t see a pattern in recent seasons that anyone who threatens Ferrari picks up penalties that have never been issued before. Michelin tyres which became illegal after two years, Mass dampers which passed scrutinneering at about 25 races then miraculously became aerodynmaic devices at the same time Ferrari introduced their aero brake cooling devices which they have twice had to take off the car this season to stop the brakes overheating, Alonso’s aerodynamic blocking of Massa (no doubt now he has grown up he won’t do that any more), last season in addition to everything else McLaren had an equality steward dumped on them for the last race. Imagine if Fernando had hit the problem Lewis did in Brazil. Can you imagine the conclusions Max would have drawn.

  14. Of course anything that stands up to Ferrari has been punished, and it’s more than just recent seasons it’s been going on since the dawn of mankind. FIA does stand for Ferrari International Aid – I will always stand by that statement.

    BUT to say that Lewis’ punishment over Spa is BECAUSE of Ferrari well that’s where I draw the line because it has nothing to do with it, the guy chopped the corner and didn’t return the approach to the next corner fairly and imo it is a simple racing incident. It has no need to blow it out of proportion and say it’s the world vs Lewis because that is not the case for this current situation.

    Now if McLaren get hit with some dreamt up charge – don’t put it past Max/FIA/Ferrari they are good at it look what they did to Renault! That would be a different story alltogether, but not this one of Lewis chopping corners.

  15. Ian Leapingwell said on 23rd September 2008, 13:15

    I personally find it quite difficult to write anything which concerns Maranello Max, and at the same time stifle the overwhelming desire to a)swear, b)insult, c) mention sex, or d) discriminate, but I will try my level best.
    I’ve followed and loved F1 for over 50 years. It’s been great for the most part, except for the boring Schuwats’it years, during which there was a good deal of rule breaking by the maestro himself (and often unpunished!) Please don’t bother to reply, Schu fans, it is all there on video and undeniable!
    After Spa, I wrote to Bernie, (I’ve known him for many years), saying that he had to do something about the stewards and their inconsitent application of the rules, “written or otherwise”. Bernie has been trying to improve the quality of the show, the racing, the overtaking, for years, and when we get a corker of a race, what happens?, the FIA functionaires get in on the act and destroy what was a great race. The win was thoroughly deserved by Lewis.
    He did gain an advantage temporarily, but he gave back the place to Kimi, immediately. Job done! Charlie Whiting told McLaren, not once, but twice, that he had done enough. Charlie is the race director, right? So where is the problem? Now we hear talk of “Did he do enough?”. Where is the consistency?
    For heavens sake, he gave back the place. What was he supposed to do, let Kimi win by not trying to attack anymore, or wait until Christmas and then try again?
    I am actually a fan of Massa, believing that he is doing a really great job, but I wonder how he could be at all satisfied by winning a race under these circumstances.
    They are racing drivers, and they attack, and they try to overtake. It is what they do, and it is what we want to see. Seat of the pants, balls out racing, at it’s very very best.
    In my humble opinion, this sort of thing makes the people that run the regulatory side of F1 a laughing stock. It just isn’t serious, or fair, by any stretch of the imagination. It brings the sport into disrepute.
    If Lewis does not get his points and the win back, I am done with F1. I will not watch another race, at the very least, until they get rid of the people who are responsible for these idiotic decisions, and that includes “Ve vil haf to punish zem Max”.
    Niki Lauda was outraged by what happened, and I believe that he is more than qualified to say the things that he did. These people are killing our sport,I repeat, KILLING OUR SPORT, and they have to go, sooner rather than later. How it is that Max is still in charge after the scandal is totally beyond me.

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