The weekend of the Brazilian Grand Prix saw a number of F1 drivers called in by the stewards for alleged non-compliance with the newly introduced qualifying protocols.
The incidents took place at the Interlagos circuit, renowned for its high-speed corners and intense racing atmosphere. This time, however, it was action in the pit lanes, rather than on the track itself, that brought four drivers under scrutiny.
New rules for qualifying
In an effort to streamline the qualifying process and minimise obstruction, FIA Race Director Niels Wittich had recently introduced clearer guidelines. At previous races in Singapore and Mexico, drivers had backed up at the end of the pit lane, creating a congested and potentially dangerous situation.
Although the drivers were cleared in those instances, the repeated incidents prompted Wittich to introduce stricter regulations regarding the creation of gaps between cars during their out laps in qualifying.
Wittich’s new rules are clear. Any act of stopping in the overtaking lane will now be considered “unnecessarily slow driving”, which is a violation of Article 33.4 of the Formula One Sporting Regulations.
This new guidance is intended to ensure that the pit lane, and in particular the fast lane, remains a zone of continuous flow and does not become a strategic bottleneck during the critical phases of qualifying.
For the sake of clarity and enforcement, the FIA’s pre-event notes, distributed to all teams, set out the expectations: during both the Sprint Shootout and Qualifying, drivers may create a gap between the pit exit lights and the SC2 line, but they must position themselves to the left. This is to ensure that other competitors can overtake them safely and unhindered on the right.
According to these updated rules with regards to Brazil, drivers are required to go beyond the pit exit lane before they can start to slow down and create the necessary space for a clean qualifying lap. At the São Paulo Grand Prix in particular, this meant that drivers had to clear the apex of the pit lane at Turn 3 before pulling to the left to allow faster cars to overtake.
Despite the clarity provided, Mercedes’ George Russell, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez were all alleged to have contravened these instructions. Their actions resulted in them being summoned before the stewards to explain their side of the story.
The summonses certainly shows the Race Director’s zero tolerance in order to enforce the new rules aimed at preventing the problems in recent races, especially during the qualifying sessions where every millisecond can determine grid positions.
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