The race was over and Lewis Hamilton rolled his Silver Arrows over to a rather unfamiliar parking position. Behind a sign with the large number “3”. There he was now standing next to the car of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who had earned a place on the “1” for the ninth time, and Max Verstappen’s Red Bull, in front of which was a “2”. Hamilton climbed out of the car and ran over to interviewer Johnny Herbert, who was about to ask him a few awkward questions. Hamilton put his hand to his ear as if he wanted to close his shell to dampen Herbert acoustically.
But before that he quickly pulled the zipper on his racing suit up to his chin. According to regulations! That was added on Hamilton’s bad day: Shortly before the start, the World Automobile Federation had banned a possible continuation of Hamilton’s anti-racism campaign. It issued a guideline that pilots must wear their overalls “closed to the neck” during the podium ceremony and interviews. After the race in Mugello, Hamilton wore a T-shirt that read “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor”, reminding him of the black American who was shot by a policeman. Who knows what message Hamilton had prepared in Sochi on Sunday.
But now Johnny Herbert was also standing in front of him. And Herbert, three-time race winner, wanted to know from him why he hadn’t managed to achieve Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 racing victories today, which for a long time it was thought that mankind had colonized Mars before it would equalize anyone. Herbert knew the answer, of course: Hamilton had burned a forbidden dress rehearsal on the asphalt in Sochi with his tires: he rehearsed the start half an hour before the race. Twice in a row. However, right at the end of the pit exit – not where test starts are allowed. For this he received a penalty of two times five seconds. Five per start. Ten seconds that cost him victory and postponed his jubilee day by at least two weeks: Then Formula 1 drives at the Nürburgring.
He just didn’t have the best day, said Hamilton. Herbert stayed with it, followed up. “It doesn’t matter now. I’ll take the points with me,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton learns of his sentence by radio
Hamilton’s annoyance was enormous, understandably. He wasn’t even to blame for the illegal performances. He had previously asked his team whether the test starts would be allowed. He was temporarily threatened with the imminent loss of his driving license: He initially received the ninth and tenth penalty points in the sinner register. With twelve points he would have had to sit out for a race. Formula 1 is tough like the driver’s license office in Flensburg. However, hours after the race, the commissioners withdrew the penalty points – and instead sentenced Mercedes to a fine of 25,000 euros twice.
When the commissioners in Sochi came to their verdict, the race had long been running. Hamilton found out about his sentence on the radio. In disbelief, he asked: “Where are these in the regulations?” Then he commented: “Just to slow me down. But it’s okay!” Well, Article 19.1 of the “Event Notes” states: “Practice starts may only be carried out on the right-hand side of the lane after the traffic lights at the pit exit.” His team boss Toto Wolff took Hamilton under protection. It is not exactly “specified” where exactly the place for the starts is.
Hamilton actually started in an area after the traffic lights at the pit exit. However, very far from and not immediately after the traffic lights. For safety reasons, the rulers are obviously concerned with a spatial equalization between the exercise start area and the course. It was no longer observed. Hamilton later admitted that he had chosen the place far back at the exit very deliberately. “I generally do this in every race. I’ve been doing it for years and have never had any problems.”
These are unusual mistakes that Mercedes have made recently. Apparently the regulations are not firmly in the mind. The other day, at the race in Monza, Hamilton had made a pit stop even though the pit lane was still closed. The team learned at that time that two blinking crosses on the left side of the track should be observed at certain moments. And now in Sochi there were also problems in the qualification: Hamilton almost retired from the time chase, barely made it to the final. But only because his racing team had screwed the softest, fastest and most ephemeral tire compound on his car in Q2 to be on the safe side. The regulations stipulate that the tires from the Q2 must also be put on at the start of the race. Which is why Hamilton, pole position or not, had a disadvantage in Sochi: He had to make good use of the most perishable tires in order not to risk one more stop than Verstappen, who started the race from second on medium tires.