Aus GP stewards call for review after contrasting Mercedes pace almost led to a pile-up

Michelle Foster
Lewis Hamilton leads the field on the way to the grid for a restart. Australia April 2023

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton leads the field on the way to the grid for a restart. Australia April 2023

The Australian Grand Prix stewards have called for a review into the wording of the regulation governing the out-lap to the grid for a restart after Lewis Hamilton’s slow pace almost caused a massive accident.

Sunday’s race around the Albert Park circuit was marred by red flags, the first of which belonged to Alex Albon when he crashed at Turn 7 leaving debris and gravel strewn over the track.

The red flag was shown with Hamilton in the lead.

As such he led the field back out onto the track behind the Safety Car as the drivers put in an out-lap on the way to the grid for a standing restart, but once the Safety Car had turned off its lights it was left to Hamilton to dictate the pace.

He went slow, extremely slow.

That almost caused a multi-car pile-up as the field slowed right down only for those at the very back, trying to catch up after George Russell’s slow exit from the pits, to come screaming up behind them.

Zhou Guanyu and Logan Sargeant had to take evasive action while Kevin Magnussen went flying through the gravel and effectively overtook a handful of cars.

The stewards, though, declared there’d be no penalties. recommends

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They explained: “When Russell and the cars behind caught up with the cars in front, they were met with a significant speed delta between the two groups resulting in a situation where a number of cars had to take evasive action.

“This was not at all an ideal situation from a safety point of view.

“Although Russell’s start was slow, given that he had to maintain the pit lane speed till he got out of the pits and that he immediately sped up to make up the gap, we did not consider that it would be necessary or appropriate to penalise Russell for a slow start from the pit lane. We, therefore, took no further action.”

They have, however, called for a review into the rule that allowed Hamilton to slow the field to that extent.

“We do consider that part of the problem is the regulation that permits the lead car to set the pace even when the restart is for a standing start from the pit lane,” the stewards added.

“This should perhaps be looked at in the future to see if this is appropriate for a restart of this nature.”

Article 58.11 of the sporting regulations states: “At this point the first car in line behind the Safety Car may dictate the pace and, if necessary, fall more than ten (10) car lengths behind it.”

But do the regulations need tweaking?

Between the two Mercedes drivers, Hamilton going slow and Russell trying to catch up along with those behind him, they created a perfect storm in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix.

Formula 1’s regulations state that when the Safety Car is out, the leading car has to stay within 10 car lengths of it ahead of a restart. But that changes once the message for a standing start is given.

At that time the Safety Car’s lights go out and the P1 car becomes the pace-setter – as it is on the formation lap ahead of an official race start. And when last did you see a near-miss pile-up on a formation lap?

The problem wasn’t Hamilton’s pace, the problem on Sunday was that Russell’s slow exit from the pits left those trailing him with gaps to make up.

That they were coming through an unsighted corner when they came up to the back of the bunched up field only added to the chaos.

It wasn’t the regulations that were at fault, it was just a perfect storm.