I’m not one who finds much drama in the fact that Mercedes chose to loiter around in their pit box twice (on lap 20 and then again on lap 21) during the Italian grand Prix but as one might expect, there was a lot being made of the fact by Ferrari fans over the weekend. This had me curious about Article 28.12 of the sporting regulations.
“Team personnel are only allowed in the pit lane immediately before they are required to work on a car and must withdraw as soon as the work is complete.”
From the perspective of Mercedes, they say they were merely doing the opposite of whatever Kim Raikkonen did and therefore needed to the team to be ready.
“It wasn’t a phantom stop,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said. “You need to be prepared if you undercut or overcut. We didn’t know if Kimi was coming in so the message was to do the opposite. Doing the opposite means you need to have the pit crew prepared.”
On the surface, I understand that but on the other hand, if they were marking Kimi, then that would have meant if he stayed out, they would come in and vice versa. In that case, they should have come in on lap 20 when Kimi stayed out and equally not had the team in the box when Kimi actually did come in as they were doing the opposite, right? By standing in their box, it made Kimi’s entrance to his box slower as he had to steer around the Mercedes crew to enter his pit box.
Part of the game
FIA race director Charlie Whiting said of the situation:
“My feeling is that it is all part of the game,” he said. “We don’t like teams hanging around in the pit lane if they are not actually doing a pit stop, but if they come out as if there are going to do one … if they did it every lap I think we would have something to say.
“But they may well have been thinking about doing one and then changed their mind, so unless someone does something overtly incorrect I don’t think we will do anything about it.”
What about the issue of blocking Kimi’s entrance to the pit box?
“If they do then we will have a look at it. If it’s clear that that’s what they are doing, to make it more difficult for another car to come in and they had no intention of pitting, then we might well want to investigate it.”
I recalled a time in the past when Mercedes were doing some dummy pit stop moves but couldn’t remember the details so I had to do some searching. I eventually found it and what I also found was a very different position from the FIA.
It was the British Grand Prix in 2015 and Mercedes were battling Williams F1. At that time, Toto Wolff admitted they’d tried to trigger Williams into a stop by using a fake stop themselves.
“We know that Williams has more difficulties in making the tires last at the end and we knew that triggering an early stop would make them think, are we able to do that? It could trigger them into a pit stop,” he said.
“It was a bit of a game, which didn’t function. My wife sent me a WhatsApp message, saying: ‘You guys think you can fool us, hah, hah, hah.’
Just like this weekend, it was difficult to know if the team were faking a stop or just changed their mind and unless Toto admitted to it, the FIA would, like this weekend, be guessing. The case in 2015 was that he admitted they did it. What was clear at the time was the FIA’s position on this as explained by Autosport’s Jonathan Noble:
“Having been alerted about Mercedes’ actions, the FIA now intends to make sure that teams are clear that ‘fake’ stops are not allowed.
The governing body has revealed that it will adopt a zero tolerance approach to the matter, and will tell teams in a briefing ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix that any repeat in the future will be viewed as a rules breach.
Under repeat circumstances, teams will have to prove to the FIA that there was a genuine reason for them to stop if they are to escape sanction.
This will include radio communication evidence to show that the driver was under the impression he was to make a stop.
The FIA spokesman added: “Going into the pitlane like this, for no valid reason, is not allowed but the difficulty would be proving it was a clear breach.
“We have no intention of giving them a few chances and will be speaking to all the teams in Hungary about this and warning them that we will want to see (and hear) evidence that they were actually intending to stop.”
The key here is the “evidence” sought to determine if the team were faking the stops and I am curious if the FIA solicited that evidence last weekend in Italy. Charlie seemed to have a slightly more relaxed position on the matter than the FIA did back in 2015.
As I said, I’m not one of the mobocracy calling for penalties over this but I was curious because there are a lot of people discussing it online today. I recalled a time in the past when Mercedes did this and there was something nagging at me about the FIA’s stance on this. IT seems their “zero tolerance” may have been more “zero” at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2015 than it is now. Still, it is difficult to know when a team simply changed its mind and for that, I would imagine that a lot of forensic radio and strategy work would have to be done to prove intent.