The FIA’s badly-written rules leave Formula 1 looking stupid once again

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

The rules made Schumacher's punishment inevitable - and excessively harsh
The rules made Schumacher's punishment inevitable - and excessively harsh

It’s not hard to see why so many people are screaming ‘foul’ over Michael Schumacher being stripped of sixth place in the Monaco Grand Prix.

At the end of a processional race Schumacher’s pass on Alonso was, at first glance, a smart of piece opportunism – not unlike the one pulled off on the last lap at Monaco five years ago.

But those feeling frustrated with today’s outcome should direct their frustration not at the FIA’s stewards, but the confusing and contradictory rules they have to enforce.

Why Schumacher got a penalty

Here’s the stewards’ explanation for Schumacher’s penalty:

The overtaking manoeuvre was in breach of Article 40.13 of the 2010 F1 Sporting Regulations, the Stewards decided to impose a drive through penalty but, as it occurred during the last five laps, 20 seconds will be added to the elapsed race time of car Nr 3.

And here’s the relevant part of the rules:

40.13: If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.

The same rule was in effect last year (article 40.14 in the 2009 F1 Sporting Regulations).

What has changed since then is the creation of a safety car line – the point after which drivers may overtake when the race is re-started. Mercedes believed the race was being restarted at the safety car line.

How Mercedes got it wrong

Here’s Ross Brawn’s explanation for why Schumacher continued racing:

With regard to the penalty given to Michael, we believed that the track had gone green and the race was not finishing under a safety car when article 40.13 clearly would have applied.

The reason for the safety car had been removed, the FIA had announced ‘Safety Car in this lap’ early on lap 78 and the track had been declared clear by race control. This was further endorsed when the marshals showed green flags and lights after safety car line one. On previous occasions when it has been necessary to complete a race under a safety car, full course yellows are maintained, as in Melbourne 2009.

On the last lap, we therefore advised our drivers that they should race to the line and Michael made his move on Fernando for sixth place. We have appealed the decision of the stewards.
Ross Brawn

Brawn’s reasoning is persuasive but if his interpretation of the rules were correct we would have the strange situation where drivers were allowed to race from the safety car line to the finishing line. That scenario seems to be what article 40.13 was written to prevent.

It’s hardly surprising other teams were of the opinion that it would not be allowed. McLaren quite clearly told Lewis Hamilton:

Lewis this is the last lap of the race we?ll be finishing behind the safety car. No overtaking.
McLaren team radio

Hamilton saw Schumacher passing Alonso in his mirrors and registered his surprise:

I thought you said we couldn’t pass after safety car? Michael passed Fernando.
Lewis Hamilton

If cars are not supposed to be racing at this point one might reasonably ask why green flags were being waved. The regulations say:

As the safety car is approaching the pit entry the yellow flags and SC boards will be withdrawn and replaced by waved green flags with green lights at the Line. These will be displayed until the last car crosses the Line.

However the green flags visible when Schumacher passed Alonso were before the finishing line. This makes Mercedes’ confusion rather more understandable.

The penalty

The rules are clear when it comes to what sort of penalty the stewards can give:

16.3: The stewards may impose any one of three penalties on any driver involved in an Incident:
a) A drive-through penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane and re-join the race without stopping;
b) A ten second time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop at his pit for at least ten seconds
and then re-join the race.
c) A drop of any number of grid positions at the driver?s next Event.

However, should either of the penalties under a) and b) above be imposed during the last five laps, or after the end of a race, Article 16.4b) below will not apply and 20 seconds will be added to the elapsed race time of the driver concerned in the case of a) above and 30 seconds in the case of b).

Having found Schumacher at fault, they couldn’t let him go unpunished. But, as with Lewis Hamilton at Spa in 2008, the time penalty is too harsh as it drops him behind people he wouldn’t have been behind if he hadn’t made the move.

Simply putting Schumacher back behind Alonso would have been a fair penalty, but the rules did not allow the stewards to do this.

The blame game

Schumacher’s penalty was excessive but it’s not the stewards who are at fault. Poorly-written rules are to blame.

The use of green flags made it unclear whether overtaking was allowed at the corner where Schumacher passed Alonso. It’s not hard to see how Mercedes could have thought the race was restarting.

And tight rules on penalties gave the stewards no option to give Schumacher a suitably mild penalty – such as docking him one position in the finishing order – for an infraction that was borne not out of malice but a misunderstanding.

A lot of comments have been made here criticising Damon Hill for the decision. Hill, a rival of Schumacher’s for many years, was serving as the drivers’ representative to the stewards.

It should be remembered that the decision to penalise Schumacher will not have been taken by Hill on his own. The other three stewards were Jose Abed, Paul Gutjahr and Christian Calmes.

Hill’s role this weekend was public knowledge and no-one he might conceivably have had prejudicial opinions for or against raised an objection. In an interview with the BBC before the race Hill freely acknowledged his former rivalry with Schumacher and said he would not allow it to sway his judgement.

Hill is too obvious and too easy a scapegoat. The rules are at fault, and not for the first time.

Like the Hamilton-Trulli incident at Melbourne last year, and Hamilton being stripped of his win at Spa in 2008, clearer rules could have prevented all these controversies.

2010 Monaco Grand Prix

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322 comments on “The FIA’s badly-written rules leave Formula 1 looking stupid once again”

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  1. Nice article Keith, I think everyone should be made to read this before arguing for or against the penalty.

  2. I disagree about the rule being in any way unclear in this case:

    “40.13 If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.”
    so there are a few terms in order for this rule to work:
    – The race ends whilst the safety car is deployed THEN
    – The safety car enters the pit lane at the end of the last lap THEN
    – he cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.

    All those conditions are definetly met in this case Keith. The race ended whilst the safety car was deployed so the safety car enters the pit lane at the end of the last lap, so they can’t overtake each other. Pretty simple so far.

    I also disagree that the punishments are clear. It’s clear what punishments they can give, but it’s far from being specific enough. It’s like telling a judge he can punish a criminal by giving him community service, time in prison or time in a clinic of somekind. That’s not clear since it means that if you steal an apple, the judge may give you time in jail!! It’s not enough to know what kind of punishments they can give, they need to specify what kind of punishment applies to what rule, at least the maximum punishment. This is way too arbitraty.

    Another problem in this particular case is not the rule, but the PROCEDURE. Like I stated; The rule is clear, what causes the confusion is the procedure of the “SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP”-sign. In the case of “FINISHING UNDER SC” the SC ALWAYS goes in at the end of the last lap. That this leads to confusion is obvious since people are now bringing 40.11 into the picture, which is, in this case, just plain wrong.

    1. Nick Barnes
      16th May 2010, 22:09

      You are quite right. “If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed”…

      The question is, though, how do we know whether it was deployed or not?

      There could be two reasons why the car came in when it did:

      1 – Because the race was finishing under the safety car and the regulations were being followed.

      2 – Because the track was clear and it was safe to race again.

      Just because it came in when it did doesn’t automatically mean that the second reason can’t apply.

      1. Precisely, but today – for all the drivers and teams could have known – 2) applied, ie race on, because of the SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP signal since earlier in the final lap. No ambiguity whatsoever.

        1. Nick Barnes
          16th May 2010, 22:21

          I couldn’t agree more. Sadly other people seem to think that it’s obvious 1) applies and 2) doesn’t.

          Ho hum.

      2. No in this case it could only be 1, since it came in in the last lap. It works the other way around too so you know it’s a finish under the safety car when the SC comes in at the last lap. If it comes in at any other lap it’s 40.11 and you can race from the SC line again, but if it comes in at the last lap it’s by definition a finish under SC.

        1. Oh and that means 40.13 applies, and not 40.11. I agree that the punishment is too harsch and the procedure of “SC in this lap” causes a lot of unnecessary confusion, but the rules is very clear IMO.

        2. Oh and that means 40.13 applies, and not 40.11. I agree that the punishment is too harsch and the procedure of “SC in this lap” causes a lot of unnecessary confusion, but the rule is very clear IMO.

          I do think they need to get rid of the entire “finish under SC”-rule though! I mean why not give them back 3 laps or something? I mean the cars save fuel under the SC-situation and if that doesn’t suffice then just change the regulations a little bit! So the gastanks become a little bit bigger again, but at least we’ll have decent finishes.

  3. so basically, rule 40.13 means that when the safety car is out on the last lap, no overtaking is allowed what so ever even if the safety car goes into the pits at the end of the last lap all in the name of a pretty race finish?
    safety car + last lap + 40.13 = no more chances for overtaking and the results are already decided as soon as the safety car is into the last lap. :( Boring.
    stewards were correct in their decision and punishment as they could do nothing but follow what the rules dictate but it’s yet another stupid and pointless rule to say the least! get rid!
    rule 40.13 (new version) should read “Drivers should go hell for leather after the safety car has gone into the pits at the end of the last lap when there are green flags and lights”

  4. This is BS! F1 is for people who enjoy watching racing and to be honest, the thing that intrests me the least are the rules. The less of them and the simpler they are, the better the racing! This kind of bureaucracy is ruining the sport!

    Big up for Schumi and Brawn for taking chances and risking just to make it all more exciting and competitive!

    1. Precisely! ………………………….

  5. I think if a driver has committed an offence, then it is right that he should go back further than where he would have been if he had not made the move. Its a bit like robbing a bank and then saying sorry, you can have the money back.

    1. It’s not like robbing a bank because they weren’t trying to break the rules. It’s more like being given some money and then being told “No, you weren’t supposed to have that. Oh and now you’re going to jail”

  6. Nick Barnes
    16th May 2010, 22:02

    So, the stewards believe that the race ended whilst the safety car was still deployed. Fair enough, but this raises a number of questions:

    1 – At what point is the race deemed to have ended? Surely the race ends at the point the finish order (prior to any stewards’ decisions) is known. For the stewards’ decision to be valid, the definition of ‘deployed’ must be entirely theoretical – quite clearly the safety car was, in reality, off the track and out of the picture at the end of the race.

    2 – Given that the safety car was still theoretically deployed, one then has to ask how the teams would be aware of this. My understanding is that the messages passed to the teams in relation to the safety car were *exactly* the same as in any other situation – i.e. they were told that the safety car was coming in and then everything lit up green in *exactly* the same way as would have happened at any time during the race.

    3 – Why were the teams told that the safety car was coming in when they should have been told that the car was coming in, but would theoritically still be on the track?

    Some people have suggested that because the safety car started the last lap, it is quite obvious that it was still deployed at the end of the race. Bear in mind that the regulations don’t define the end of the race in terms of starting the last lap.

    It is worth repeating that if this situation occurred at any other point in the race, MSC’s manoeuvre would have been perfectly legitimate. The only reason it wasn’t was because the safety car was theoretically still deployed. There was absolutely no way that any team could know whether the car was still deployed or not.

    On balance (given the green flags and what would happen given *exactly* the same circumstances, but at a different point in the race), I believe that MSC’s manoeuvre was entirely legitimate.

    Unless somebody can demonstrate how a team would know that the safety car was still deployed, I’ll continue to believe that it wasn’t and that MSC was wronged.

    1. EXACTLY RIGHT! ……………………….

      1. Jarred Walmsley
        16th May 2010, 22:28

        What would be interesting to know is did the safety cars lights went out, if they did then the safety car was finished and racing would be allowed, and this would be further confirmed by the waving of the green flags

        1. Nick Barnes
          16th May 2010, 22:39

          Yes, the lights did go out.

    2. “There was absolutely no way that any team could know whether the car was still deployed or not.”

      As a matter of fact the SC wasn’t on the track anymore so IMHO the right assumption for the teams was that the car wasn’t deployed.

      1. Exactly right…………………………

      2. Nick Barnes
        16th May 2010, 22:35

        That assumption, though, means that there could never be a situation where 40.13 would apply.

        I can’t believe for a moment that there would be redundant rules and therefore the only logical explanation is that a safety car does not have to be on the track for it to be deemed deployed.

        Given that there doesn’t seem to be any mechanism by which the teams are made aware of whether the safety car is deemed to be deployed, the whole thing’s a bit of a mess.

        There, that’s nice and clear isn’t it.

        1. Actually, if the ‘safety car in this lap’ would not have been announced, the rule would have applied. The safety car would have went of the track, but the overtaking would have been against the rules.

    3. It is also worth noting that following the logic that the race was “over” when the safety car started the last lap, had Mark Webber broken down and stopped on track without crossing start finish, he would still have won the race!

      All very goofy and unproffesional on the part of the stewards, there should not be any penalty for passing under green track conditions.

      1. Nick Barnes
        16th May 2010, 22:38

        Absolutely. Quite clearly, any argument that because the safety car started the last lap it should be deemed to have finished it is completely spurious.

  7. “Simply putting Schumacher back behind Alonso would have been a fair penalty, but the rules did not allow the stewards to do this.”

    No that would have been fair (for the individual), but not a penalty. A penalty is a punishment that should be imposed up on breaking the rules. The “fairness” should not be judged by the suffering of the punished (individual), but of the fairness of the whole, hence the 20 sec penalty.

    1. How is it fair the people behind Alonso get extra points for no effort?

      1. HounslowBusGarage
        16th May 2010, 22:48

        That’s irrelevent. If Webber, Vettel and Massa had broken down the all the other drivers would have benefitted “for no effort”.

  8. Thanks for the followup and perhaps my comment towards Hill was uncalled for. Unfortunately the FIA rules are garabage that was written and do not appear to have been taken thru scenarios to look for conflict within their very rules.

  9. GREEN FLAG MEANS GO RACING, ITS BEEN THAT WAY FOR 1 HUNDRED YEARS!!! it just sounds like some anglo saxon bureaucrat wants to to change the core rules of racing, so everyone ends up arguing over technicalities breeding caution and ruining racing, this kind of stuff is my pet hate and im seething with F1 at the moment more than i ever have before.

    1. you’re right, but as Keith pointed out those green flags created this unclear situation. they had to be shown only at the start of a new lap, not from the SC line to the finish line.

    2. Yes, and that’s the bottom line.
      The driver sits in his cockpit and relies upon the signals he is given by the officials. When you give him a green flag it’s an unambiguous signal that the race is on.

      You cannot punish a driver when you yourself have misled him.

      1. HounslowBusGarage
        16th May 2010, 22:51

        No, it’s not unambiguous. Green flag means ‘obstruction removed’, but the situation might still be subject to other conditions eg Article 40.13.

        1. Nick Barnes
          16th May 2010, 22:59

          Green flag does not mean ‘obstruction removed’.

          From (The ‘official’ F1 web site):
          “All clear. The driver has passed the potential danger point and prohibitions imposed by yellow flags have been lifted.”

          1. To me it seems, Nick, that HounslowBusGarage said exactly the same, just nor formulated in the formal wording.

        2. No, a green flag means something more:
          “Green flag
          All clear. The driver has passed the potential danger point and PROHIBITIONS IMPOSED BY YELLOW FLAGS HAVE BEEN LIFTED.”

          “the situation might still be subject to other conditions eg Article 40.13.”
          – Not really.
          The direct signals always overpower the formal regulations because they are of dynamic nature (and are adjusted to the state of current events that they result from).

          Imagine you’re approaching an intersection with a traffic sign telling you to turn right, but with a Police car and a Policeman in the middle of the intersection telling you to turn left.
          Will you go right, because the traffic regulations expressed by the sign tell you to do so?
          OF COURSE NOT!!
          You will take the direct instructions from the authority!

          And the direct instructions from the authorities MSC received were:
          “All prohibitions have been lifted. The race is on!”

          1. No, any half-decent policeman would’ve switched off the traffic lights. Yet F1 couldn’t do that, and kept green lights on??

    3. Yes Sir I agree, Green Flag I know means “Bigety Bigety Bigety, Lets Go Racing Boys!!!!!”

      Please don’t change that.

      Maybe the FIA want’s say to Green Flag Means “Please Continue your Procession Gentlemen” and this is a race so please don’t overtake :)

  10. The facts:
    1. The lights on the safety car went out
    2. The safety car went to pit lane
    3. The green lights and flags were displayed
    4. The safety car signs were withdrawn from pit in to start /finish

    I have no idea what the officials are doing, and neither do they. All of the above CLEARLY indicated, “the race is resuming under green flag conditions to the line, go to it”.

    No race fan would have assumed anything else as the above circumstances cannot mean anything else!

    If there is some obscure requlation which says “you do not resume racing when the green flag comes out on the last part of the last lap if the safety car has gone into the pits, that is the quite stupid on the part ofthe FIA.

    If the race was to end under caution why did the safety car go back in and the green flag wave?

    A complete farce! Schumaker should be awarded the “Move of the Race Trophy’ for being the only one conscious on the last restart!

    1. You’re absolutely right 1.-4. together plus the SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP message since early in lap 78 made it clear that the safety car was not deployed and the race on from SC line to finish. Maybe the organisers wanted 40.13 to apply, but then they got all the signalling wrong and no driver/team should be punished for reading and obeying the sigalling in place!

    2. It’s not move of the race if nobody else was bothering to race, or had been strictly instructed not to.

  11. Although the penalty gives me some reason to smile (FI got 8/9th and 3 additional points), I’m rather surprised at the decision. I was expecting the FIA to swallow its pride and give Merc GP and MSC a ‘let go’ as it was clearly a misunderstanding of poorly written regs and if anyone’s fault, it was the FIA’s. Mercedes did nothing wrong, imo, in allowing Michael to overtake as the track was clearly green and overtaking is allowed after the 1st safety car line.
    40.13 would’ve applied if the race had finished under yellow flags, with or without the safety car leading.
    As the safety car had gone in and the track was green-flagged, there was nothing wrong in Michael overtaking.
    The worst part in all of this is the ridiculous manner in which the FIA regulations are written. What a bunch of muppets! With their million dollar lawyers, they can’t even write a clear set of regulations, let alone sensible ones..
    Mercedes are very right in appealing as it is a grossly unfair decision.
    Utterly embarrassing outcome in the end.

  12. But this is what I don’t get, Michael Schumacher makes an attempt at an overtaking move which he successfully and legally excecutes, yet he gets docked five places (to last) from where he was before the move. In trying a move he gets penalised 5 places. Its not like he’s cut a corner or something. Normally I am not fond of NASCAR but the race extension idea sounds like common sense which at times is seriously lacking in our valued sport.

  13. As Dennis has said, this appears to be a failure of procedure. As Ross Brawn points out, “On previous occasions when it has been necessary to complete a race under a safety car, full course yellows are maintained, as in Melbourne 2009.” If the race was still under SC conditions, I don’t see why green flags should have been waved and the SC signs should have been drawn in. This can only lead to confusion. The procedures that the marshals follow should make it easy for the drivers and teams to understand the conditions on the track, not confusing.

  14. Keith,

    How about your website awards both Alonso and Schumacher an award for passing at Monaco. Both drivers should be cellebrated for doing what race-car drivers should do.

    Alonso had a great dive-bomb on Massa for the pitlane, and if that is legal, it was a great pass, and if it wasn’t it was a great pass.

    Michael is in the same boat here and I’m sure Alsono would agree (though possibly quietly). Race car drivers pass. Of all the bashing of Michael – how many other race car drivers passed another race car driver at Monaco?

    1. if that is legal, it was a great pass, and if it wasn’t it was a great pass.

      It was legal.

      I agree we should celebrate drivers making legal passing moves. A certain one at Spa two years ago springs to mind!

      Of all the bashing of Michael – how many other race car drivers passed another race car driver at Monaco?

      Outside of F1, Giedo van der Garde and Brendon Hartley did some good passes in GP2 and WSR respectively.

      And of course Alonso picked off some of the slower cars, though only di Grassi defended his position.

  15. Jarred Walmsley
    16th May 2010, 22:37

    Why didn’t the stewards simply award a single place position drop at Turkey which while still an unfair penalty would have been the most fair penalty that they would be able to give him.

    1. I think a penalty in the form of a grid drop at the next race would have been the worst choice.

      MSC is being penalised for overtaking and gaining 6th position. The way I read it, the FIA can only apply one out of the three penalty options… so if they chose the option of a grid drop at the next race, MSC would keep the points for 6th!

    2. The stewards only tend to use the grid penalty in circumstances where a driver has taken himself out of a race – e.g. Vettel’s collision with Kubica at Melbourne last year.

      And, to be honest, I’m happy with it that way. I don’t like to see drivers carrying penalties into the next race.

      Plus the grid penalty is a very inconsistent punishment. A five-place grid drop is a disaster at Monaco, but it’s not so bad at Istanbul.

  16. After a Pathetic Procession like today’s race, at least we have something to talk about.

    Keith, If we go by the facts of the green flag that you have given above I believe that Mercedes will gets a fair chance by FIA court reversing the decision/overtake but we will have to wait and watch how FIA would have to clean up their own mess.

    Again Racing drivers cannot race by having a copy of the FIA regulations in the cockpit. So it is up to the team to instruct them. Mclaren did the safe thing possible because if they let loose Lewis he would have taken a couple of positions and possibly ended up on the 3rd position on the podium. If the Team instructed Schumi wrongly, then fine the team. Take the constructors points away for Mercedes and keep the position behind Alonso for Schumi with points. And for God’s Sake spare Damon Hill. Damon to be fair on you – please don’t accept this position until Schumi is racing. Everybody will have all sorts of comments on this.

    Anyway I have been watching F1 for last 20 years. Been watching NASCAR for only last 7 years. I know it will not sound very nice but please FIA talk to your NASCAR counterparts and understand how clean they do the Pace Car and the rules around it. Esp situations such as today’s are handled extremely well. There is even a new rule this year that they will make 3 attempts to finish the race under green before closing it under Pace car under the regulation time. Very well thought about.

    1. Racing drivers cannot race by having a copy of the FIA regulations in the cockpit.

      I agree. The sporting regulations are seriously over-complicated .

  17. The big issue here, from my point of view is “the first safety car line”. Why in the world would the race restart after cars cross the safety car line when there is a perfectly good and clear start/finish line 250 metres down the road? Since when has this regulation be changed, and for what possible reason? This is what has created all the confusion and is what should be amended in the first place.

    1. Brake Bias
      17th May 2010, 1:12

      Damn fine point there.

    2. because its good fun, more chance to overtake

  18. If they are not meant to be racing, why show green flags? For the cameras? How shallow is F1 now? It’s also a dangerous safety issue; imagine a young driver momentarily forgets the rule and sees the green flags waving. He goes for it, with the driver in front of him not expecting it. They tangle, there’s a crash, and somebody gets hurt.

    In future the FIA should mandate nothing but yellow flags. Do they really think that the TV audience will be fooled into forgetting that the race is ending artificially close just because of the colour of the flags being waved?

  19. It`s there in black an white, if the `SC In this Lap` message is given the race cant restart till it is out off the way, it doesn`t matter where in the lap the `SC In` message is given theres no racing till you pass the SC line.

    Now, if the SC message is given an the SC enters the final lap the cars still cant race till the SC line is passed BUT `the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking`.

    The only thing I can see in all of this is the stupidity of the rule wasn`t revealed till someone broke it.

  20. ‘Poorly written rules’ – that’s not fair! Motor racing is immensely complicated sport which requires more sporting regulations than any sport I can think of. It’s understandable that in the vast set of rules there will be a situation where rules become unclear, these are things which you just can’t anticipate, and to blame the FIA for this I think is mean.

    1. Nick Barnes
      16th May 2010, 23:03

      Any rule which applies under certain circumstances, but yet which fails to adequately define those circumstances is poorly written.

      This particular rule appears to have been written for an ideal world. I would suggest that it appears no attempts have been made to see how well it’d stand up in the real world.

      1. The rule is poorly written IF it was indeed interpreted correctly. For every person with understanding of English, it should be clear that the interpretation was not correct. So for this particular example I can’t draw conclusion that there’s something wrong with the rule. The race simply was not finished with SC on, because SC was called in and the green flags were shown. To finish it correctly with the SC on means that there won’t be green flags and the SC is not called in.

        There might be problems with the other rules ofcourse.

        Yellow flags are enought to tell the drivers that the overtaking is not allowed. So basically, even though the SC was called in, they could have separately forbidden the overtaking with yellow flags if that is what they wanted.

        So the fault in this case is on the people who made the decision for the penalty.

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