Drivers as stewards make presence felt as Hamilton gets black-and-white flag

CommentPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

The stewards said Hamilton's defence from Petrov was too aggressive
The stewards said Hamilton's defence from Petrov was too aggressive

Lewis Hamilton was shown the black-and-white flag during the Malaysian Grand Prix for weaving in front of Vitaly Petrov. He didn’t receive a penalty, but was warned not to repeat his actions.

It’s been a long time since anyone was shown the “unsportsmanlike driving” flag – and its appearance in today’s race is a sign the addition of experienced racing drivers to the stewards’ office is having an effect.

There is no written rule on what a driver who is defending his position is allowed to do. But it’s generally accepted they are allowed to make “one move” off the racing line and a subsequent move back towards the racing line as they approach the next corner.

Hamilton obeyed this principle when he first passed Petrov at the end of lap five. Then Petrov re-passed him.

But when Hamilton got past the Renault driver again at the end of lap seven, his defensive tactics clearly went beyond what is normally accepted.

As they crossed the line to start lap eight Hamilton crossed from the right-hand side of the track over to the extreme left, pausing briefly on his way, then came back across to the right, back over to the left again, and then to the middle of the track.

This clearly went beyond what the “one move” rule allows. Here’s how Hamilton explained his reason for moving around on the straight on the radio during the race:

I wasn’t weaving for him, I was weaving to break the tow.
Lewis Hamilton

I think what we’ve seen today is the benefit of having experienced drivers assisting the stewards. Driver-stewards have been introduced for the first time in F1 this year. Today it was Johnny Herbert’s turn, and with 160 F1 starts and three wins to his name he knows the sport as well as anyone.

Drivers like Herbert are far better placed to make a call about whether a driver is attempting to run their rival off the track or simply trying to stop them getting the benefit of the slipstream.

Rapping Hamilton’s knuckles without ruining his race with a penalty was the smart thing to do – particularly at a time when so much attention is being paid to overtaking in Formula 1.

When it comes to overtaking, rules and technology stack the odds heavily in favour of the defending driver. The defending driver can have a car that’s two seconds per lap slower and aerodynamics will help keep the chasing car behind.

On top of that the “one move” rule – with its liberal interpretation which allows drivers to return towards the racing line after making their defence – makes it even harder for a car to overtake. Consider that in some series, such as IndyCar racing, drivers aren’t allowed to make defensive moves and are ordered to give up their position if they do.

But I do wonder if the stewards’ decision leaves us with one problem: drivers may now think they can expect to get away with one act of weaving per race with just a warning.

What’s your take on the penalty? Also, can anyone remember the last time the black-and-white flag was used in F1? Have your say in the comments.

2010 Malaysian Grand Prix

Image (C) Renault/LAT

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