Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton on Sunday during a blood-curdling duel for the victory in the Grand Prix of Bahrain. Then he had to leave the reigning champion again. Why did the Dutchman do this and what should the competition management do better? An analysis.
It is crystal clear that Verstappen’s overtaking action in turn 4 was against the rules. A driver is not allowed to leave the track with four wheels during an overtaking action. Verstappen did go off the track with four wheels, so he had to give the place back. There is nothing to criticize about that.
The problem around Turn 4 is more in how confused the rules are applied and how drivers legally benefit from it.
The ‘problem’ with turn 4 arose last year
Back to 2020: then there was already discussion about the exit of turn 4. Race director Michael Masi was tackled at the time when exiting turn 4. track limits not to ‘monitor’, because the drivers argued that this was an important point for overtaking.
Masi also emphasized at the time that drivers had to give their place back if they went off the track for a while during an overtaking action. Furthermore, the Australian referred to article 27.3 of the sporting regulations.
That says the following: drivers leave the track when no part of the car has contact with the track anymore. The white lines along the asphalt are still part of the track. The curbstones are not.
The race director added something specific about the exit of Turn 4 in Bahrain: the boundary at this location is the artificial grass and the gravel pit.
The situation at the exit of Turn 4, with the asphalt beyond the white line.
The drivers are concerned with a piece of asphalt
Here it becomes unclear, because the drivers do not really want to drive over that artificial grass, which is just next to the track. At least not while they are still steering. They are concerned with the asphalt that lies outside the white line just before.
That asphalt is part of the alternative layout of the circuit. The drivers who take the (too) wide line first end up on that asphalt full of grip, straighten their handlebars and then drive over the artificial turf.
The images from Sunday show that Hamilton does this time and time again. The wider line would yield up to 0.2 seconds per lap.
‘Stick to the rules, but we don’t check’
The Brit is not really responsible for the fact that Hamilton (he was certainly not the only one) did this. On Friday, the race management announced that the track limits in turn 4 would not be monitored during the race. Masi came up with the same message as last year: the artificial turf and the gravel pit set the limit here, but we are not going to monitor. Stick to the (previously mentioned) article 27.3.
It is comparable to the police who say: on this highway you are not allowed to drive faster than 100 kilometers per hour, but we are not going to check.
Drivers do not fail to take advantage of such an advantage. Hamilton did this quite consistently. Hardly any Verstappen.
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton toast to the podium in Bahrain.
Red Bull asked the race management for clarification
The ball started rolling when Red Bull asked for clarification halfway through the race. Someone on the team had noticed that Hamilton kept taking a little bit of time. Verstappen was told that the wide line from turn 4 was apparently allowed.
The FIA then intervened and especially informed Hamilton that a penalty would follow if he continued to do so. The rules were suddenly enforced in a strict way halfway through the race, which immediately shows that there is something wrong with the enforcement. The regulations state that a driver must do everything he can to keep his car on the track. So if it doesn’t consistently do that, it must be enforced.
The gray area that has apparently already been created in this corner in 2020 creates unnecessary uncertainty and now even doubts about the outcome of the race.
Imaginary speed camera half way through the race
While it can be argued that Hamilton’s wide line does not have much to do with Verstappen’s overtaking action. In any case, overtaking is not allowed in turn 4 with four wheels off the track.
Red Bull knew that, Verstappen knew that and Hamilton knew that of course. The latter immediately called to his team that the Dutchman had overtaken him outside the track.
It was bitter to him that Verstappen overtook Hamilton exactly in the corner where an imaginary speed camera had suddenly been put down halfway through the race. For the same Hamilton. After Red Bull had called the police. But the Dutchman would have been thrown on the receipt even without that bell.
Source site www.nu.nl