Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff called Lewis Hamilton’s time penalties in the Russian Grand Prix “far-fetched” as he disagrees with how the stewards interpreted the rules.
Hamilton received a pair of five-second time penalties at Sochi for rule infringements on his reconnaissance laps after pulling up on the right-hand side after the pitlane exit but before the official end of the pitlane to complete a practice start.
The poleman was deemed in breach of the instruction that practice starts could only take place “on the right-hand side after the pit exit lights”.
The penalties – taken during his pitstop – dropped Hamilton out of the lead and restricted him to third, although Mercedes still won the race with Valtteri Bottas.
“I’m not happy with the penalty because it’s far-fetched,” said Wolff.
“I will always respect the stewards in their job, but on that one we just agreed to disagree.”
Wolff and team manager Ron Meadows spoke to the stewards but were told “the verdict was he wasn’t in the right place”.
Mercedes has a policy of not singling out individuals for blame and Wolff reiterated this was neither a team error or a Hamilton error.
“It doesn’t say where, it doesn’t specify” :: Toto Wolff
But he did underline his belief that the race director’s note and regulations were unclear on this issue.
The section of race director Michael Masi’s event notes relating to practice starts states: “Practice starts may only be carried out on the right-hand side after the pit exit lights and, for the avoidance of doubt, this includes any time the pit exit is open for the race.
“Drivers must leave adequate room on their left for another driver to pass.
“For reasons of safety and sporting equity, cars may not stop in the fast lane at any time the pit exit is open without a justifiable reason.”
Hamilton and his team believe what he did was within the rules because that note does not specify how far after the lights practice starts should be carried out.
“The race director’s notes say, if I’m well informed, that you must do practice start after the lights on the right side of the pitlane,” said Wolff.
“And that’s what happened. It doesn’t say where, it doesn’t specify.”
Hamilton added: “If you look at probably every race that I’ve done this year at least. I always start further down. Never ever had a problem, done it for years.”
If Hamilton was allowed to perform the practice start on the exit road that would also exempt him from the sporting regulation breach he was deemed to have committed, which demands that drivers “going to the pit exit must do so at a constant speed and with constant throttle” in “the whole of the pitlane”.
But the stewards appear to have taken the view that the area immediately after the pitlane exit lights, off to the right of the pitlane itself, is the designated practice start area and therefore Hamilton should have maintained his speed until the end of the pit exit road to the white line that allows drivers to rejoin the track.
Wolff also questioned the application of a time penalty for a pre-race misdemeanour.
Reconnaissance lap offences like speeding in the pitlane have been met with fines before.
“We will not blame the person, we will target the problem” :: Toto Wolff
Wolff said: “To receive the 10s penalty for a reconnaissance laps infringement, an in-race penalty, can be debated also.
“But you have to take it on the chin and move on.”
The stewards considered a practice start outside of what they view as the designated area to be a potential competitive advantage.
Hamilton said he does not like to do his practice starts in the same place as starts have been performed because it’s rubbered in and “it’s not representative of what it’s like on the grid”.
Despite the disagreements, Mercedes will not take the opportunity to appeal.
“Things are not always black and white,” said Wolff. “And it has room for interpretation. There are things that can be interpreted in two ways.
“There is common sense, there is the fact that two in-race penalties were given for an infringement that happened before the race.
“There was an argument that he gained an advantage by making the practice start there, I think it was not an advantage because there was no grip, much less grip than you would have on your starting positions.
“But it is what it is. We are all emotional about that but the emotion should be geared towards Valtteri who deserved a race win for a long time.”
Wolff said that, like it did after the Monza error of pitting Hamilton when the pitlane was closed under the safety car, Mercedes needs to “learn from the incident”.
“We need to look at the procedures, and the communications,” he said.
“And, as every time we will not blame the person, we will target the problem.”