Sir Lewis Hamilton emerged victorious over Max Verstappen in Bahrain on Sunday despite Red Bull looking more competitive throughout the weekend, but the fashion in which the seven-time World Champion won the race has raised questions about the FIA’s enforcement of track limits.
Ahead of the race, the FIA said in its Race Directors’ Notes that track limits at turn four would “not be monitored with regard to setting a lap time, as the defining limits are the artificial grass and the gravel trap in that location.”
However, the notes also referred to Article 27.3 of the Sporting Regulations, which stipulate that “Drivers must make every reasonable effort to use the track at all times and may not deliberately leave the track without a justifiable reason.”
Hamilton exceeded track limits at turn four 29 times during the Bahrain Grand Prix, with the stewards seemingly not taking issue with this until Red Bull asked if its drivers were allowed to also exceed these limits.
Following this, the stewards eventually told Mercedes to instruct Hamilton to stop running wide at turn four, otherwise he would receive a black and white flag and then a time penalty.
Verstappen later overtook Hamilton for the lead by running wide at turn four, but Red Bull ordered him to give the position back to avoid a penalty.
Speaking after the race, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said he was confused by the rules regarding track limits and called for more clarity in the future.
“I’m equally confused like you. At the beginning of the race it was said track limits in turn four wouldn’t be sanctioned,” Wolff told reporters in Sakhir.
“And then in the race suddenly we heard that if you continued to run wide, it would be seen as an advantage and could cause a potential penalty.
“We debated with the Race Director but there’s nothing we could have done.
“But then at the end that decision actually made us win the race. Max [Verstappen] ran wide in the definition of the Race Director, gaining an advantage. He had to give back the position and that saved our victory.”
Continuing, Wolff said the rules regarding track limits “need to be clear, they need to be sacred and not a Shakespeare novel that leaves interpretation.
“We need to be consistent in which messages are being given… I think the learning of this is it needs to be simple, so everybody can understand it and they don’t need to carry the document in the car to read it and remind themselves what actually is allowed and what not.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner also called for more clarity and consistency following Verstappen’s “frustrating” defeat to Hamilton in the season-opener.
“With these track limit things, they’re always going to be contentious,” Horner said.
“But we do need to just have a consistent situation. You can’t say it’s okay to use it in the race, but you can’t overtake out there; it should be black or white, it shouldn’t be shaded grey.”