By Stephen Williams
Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article and please don't forget to comment.
Formula One has always been a controversial sport, and the latest saga concerned Nico Rosberg's pole position lap in the Hungarian Grand Prix. It is not the first time that Rosberg has been involved in controversy this season. There was the infamous collision at the start of the race in Spain that took out both of the Mercedes. The Austrian Grand Prix saw the two Mercedes drivers collide again, this time on the last lap, but unlike in Spain, Rosberg took all the blame. Then, during the British Grand Prix, poor communication between Nico and the team over a reliability issue lead to another penalty. What Rosberg would do for a clean race at his home Grand Prix at Hockenheim this weekend.
In Hungary, there had been heavy rain at the start of qualifying, but by the time qualifying three began, the track was significantly drier, and ready for slick tyres. However, off the racing line the track still had damp patches, and it caught out Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard spun his McLaren Honda midway through turn nine. His McLaren faced oncoming cars, which immediately brought out the yellow flags, and Hamilton's lap was ruined as he was just behind Alonso on track. Rosberg was further behind. On the exit of turn seven, he saw the double waved yellow flags and lifted off the throttle to acknowledge the danger. Once he took turn eight, the yellow light on his dashboard went out, indicating that the danger had gone. He therefore continued to push on the remainder of the lap which was still drying, and snatched pole position in the dying seconds.
In Austria, Nico Hulkenberg had been investigated by the stewards for setting a personal best first sector, when yellow flags had been waved as marshals attended the stricken Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz. Force India indicated that despite setting an overall faster time, Hulkenberg had lifted off the throttle through the yellow flag zone, so although he was investigated by the stewards, he was not penalised, and held on to his second place.
It took the stewards over three hours to even investigate the pole lap in Hungary. Speculation was that Lewis Hamilton had spoken to Charlie Whiting the race director about the issue, because he wanted clarification going forward.
Although the stewards decided not penalise Rosberg, when asked about the issue again after the race, Hamilton explained his concerns. He indicated the meaning of the different types of yellow flags that the marshals control. A single waved yellow flag warns the drivers that there is an incident ahead, and a driver is expected to slow down. Double waved yellow flags also signify danger ahead, but on a greater level. Drivers are therefore expected to slow down, and be prepared to stop. Hamilton made the case that how could Rosberg be prepared to stop, if he set the best time through the sector. Of course, as the track dried, this somewhat contributed to Rosberg's improved lap, but it does beg the question was Rosberg prepared to stop?
Nico responded to Lewis' argument in the press conference. Within the rules, Rosberg played a blinder, he slowed down when he saw the yellow flags, and once the track was clear of danger, continued on his lap to take pole on the drying track. In many ways, it was incredibly smart, realising that only a small portion of the track had a danger zone, but he could still use the improving track conditions to better his time. The on-board footage clearly shows him lifting off, so once the stewards saw that, the case was closed.
Simply put, there are rules that indicate both drivers are in correct with what they say. This is because like most of the rules in Formula One, they are ambiguous. How can this be? In many ways, the argument is not whether Rosberg should be penalised for breaking the rules, but Hamilton also believes this to be a safety issue, and what should the protocol be going forward. The section that Rosberg entered was a series of sweeping left and right, ninety degree turns. They are blind corners as barriers are positioned around the track through this section. As such, Rosberg would not have been able to see what was around the corner, and what danger awaited him. In this case, is it fair that drivers are allowed to lift off on a hot lap, losing just one tenth of a second and then push their cars to the limit while in a danger zone, putting a marshal's, or another driver's life at risk? It is clear that there needs to be one obvious rule to cover this situation. Personally, I believe that if a driver encounters a yellow flag on his flying lap, he should abandon the lap, this way he is not risking the live's of others. Of course, there will be times when a driver is unable to set another lap, and will likely be eliminated from qualifying, but this is also the case when there is a red flag near the end of a session, and there is not enough time for it to be restarted.
I doubt we've heard the end of this.