Formula 1 drivers have admitted they’re still confused as to what is and isn’t allowed when racing wheel-to-wheel.
A lengthy drivers’ briefing on Friday in Qatar centred on the Sao Paulo Grand Prix incident between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.
It was hoped the meeting would clarify the rights and wrongs of the incident.
Instead, they’ve been left as confused as ever, with some set to adapt the way they go racing given the championship leader’s robust defence went unpunished.
“It’s not clear,” Hamilton said when asked if he understands the rules when it comes to overtaking.
“Every driver, I think, except for Max was asking about, you know, just for clarity. Most drivers were asking for clarity, but it wasn’t very clear.
“It’s still not clear what the limits of the track are, it’s clearly not the white line anymore.”
The seven-time world champion’s opinion was shared by a number of leading drivers, including Daniel Ricciardo.
“I don’t think it was still very crystal clear,” he said of the drivers’ briefing discussion.
“I think the one thing that at least is clear in my head, or should be clear, if you attempt an overtake – so most likely you’re on the inside and you attempt to undertake – and you don’t stay on the track, and then the other guy obviously gone off the track as well that’s a failed overtake.”
The Australian gave the example of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz on the opening lap in Brazil, where both left the track when Leclerc attempted to pass up the inside and held the place while calling for consistency.
“In a way, they were consistent with two of the same moves in Brazil, with Charles and Carlos, and Max and Lewis; they didn’t give penalties, or make them swap positions for those two,” Ricciardo observed.
“Whether that was right or wrong at least they showed consistency in two very, very similar incidents.”
“The consistency, that’s the key, and for us to know exactly,” noted Valtteri Bottas.
“No, I don’t think we got really an explanation of what we actually can do.”
According to Lando Norris, a consideration is the consequence of an incident, an opinion at odds with comments made by the FIA.
The Brit cited his battle with Sergio Perez at the Styrian Grand Prix, when the Red Bull driver left the road while attempting to round the outside of the McLaren driver.
“Some of the things that we now understand means that I shouldn’t have got a penalty,” he said of that clash.
“But then also what types of surfaces are on the outside of the circuit, whether that’s a hole on tarmac or whatever, can also have an effect, which I don’t think may be fair or true.
“I think if you know there’s gravel on the outside, and if you’re not completely alongside me, which Perez wasn’t, he’s put himself in that very risky position.
“That’s the only thing that I believe now must have been the difference.
“He wasn’t alongside me, all the way alongside me, it was like half a car. I gave still a bit of space for him to back out, it wasn’t like I shoved him off, and there was no contact made.
“We only recently now believe that there was gravel and not tarmac.
“I feel like it’s an unfair penalty that I got, but that’s what I have to believe now is the difference from Max’s one last weekend and my one, is that I had gravel.”
Norris’ suggestion that consequences drive whether a penalty is applied was reinforced by Ricciardo, who recalled an incident in Austria last year.
Battling with Lance Stroll in the final stages of the race, the then-Renault driver took evasive action as the Racing Point driver made a move at Turn 3.
“I think the fact that he attempted to pass and didn’t make it, like he went off track, then that’s not a pass,” Ricciardo reasoned.
“There’s no way someone should be able to keep a position by lunging from miles back and not staying on track.
“It’s maybe the same as the situations last weekend.
“But yeah, it is true that the consequences do dictate a little bit of the overall decision, I believe.”
It’s an opinion at odds with comments made by FIA race director Michael Masi, who earlier this year claimed it was a fundamental principle that consequences are not taken into account by stewards.
“I think one of the big parts that’s been a mainstay for many, many years,” Masi said.
“This came through discussions prior to my time between all of the teams, the FIA and F1, and the team principals were all quite adamant, is that you should not consider the consequences in an incident.
“So when they judge an incident, they judge the incident itself, and the merits of the incident, not what happens afterwards as a consequence.
“That’s been something that the stewards have done for many years and have been advised to do from top down, and I’m talking team involvement and so forth.
“That’s the way that the stewards judge it, because start taking consequences into account, there’s so many variables, rather than judging the incident itself on its merits.”
Holding a different view of Friday’s drivers’ briefing is Verstappen, who suggests the discussion made things clearer.
“It’s always trying to align everyone in having the same process in the way you think,” he said of the meeting.
“Everyone is different, right, and everybody I think has their own way of racing and defending and overtaking.
“It’s very hard for the FIA as well to get everyone on the same line.
“Of course, they decide, but every driver has an opinion and I think yesterday it was all about sharing their opinions and then the FIA explaining their process of thought behind it.
“I think we came a long way, and it was a very long briefing, so I think it was at the end pretty clear.”
Verstappen though is a lone voice among the masses, with the consensus being that there is confusion around what is considered hard and fair racing, and what crosses that threshold into being unacceptable.
Heading into the weekend, Leclerc admitted that he would modify the way he races armed with the knowledge of last weekend’s events.
“We will always try to race at the limits of what we are allowed to do, and that’s what I will do in case these things are allowed,” said the Ferrari driver.
“Honestly, I really don’t mind [what the outcome is] but whatever is allowed, I just want it to be clear as a driver. That’s the only thing that matters to me.
“If this is allowed, then overtaking around the outside will be very difficult.
“But yeah, whatever the situation, the decision is, I’ll just adapt my driving to it, so I’m fine with both.”
It’s a view shared by Norris, who suggested he’ll modify the way he battles going forward.
“A little bit,” he said when asked by Speedcafe.com if he’ll change his approach in battle.
“There’s a couple of things maybe you would adjust.
“I don’t think you would change the way we would race or anything, but you would maybe just adjust a couple of things that you possibly now do, or not do.”