Shortly after the conclusion of the Monte Carlo race, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner was in a media briefing when he took a call from sporting director Jonathan Wheatley informing him that Ferrari had formally complained.
Ferrari felt that both of Red Bull’s drivers had broken the regulations when they appeared to run across the yellow pitlane exit as they came out after their swap to slick tires on lap 22.
During the race, Perez’s incident had been noted by the stewards but there had been no further communication.
And subsequent footage from Verstappen’s onboard showed him to be much further over the line than his teammate, so potentially at greater risk of having broken rules that would normally hand him a time penalty.
Ferrari felt that the matter needed investigation because it had been under the impression that the FIA deemed it a breach if any part of the car touched the yellow line.
As Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto explained, before the verdict was reached: “The intention to protest is not really protesting Red Bull in itself. But seeking clarification on a matter which, for us, it’s somehow obviously unclear.
“I think we believe that both Red Bulls were on the line, on the yellow line, exiting the pit lane. And in the past, it has always been penalized with five seconds.
“More than that, if you read the race director notes, it’s clearly written. And that has been clearly written, I think [since] Turkey 2020, to avoid any misunderstanding, that you need to stay on the right of the yellow line.
“To avoid confusion on the word ‘crossing’, being on the line, you need to stay on the right of the yellow line. And for us, it was not the case at all.”
“The intention to protest is not really protesting Red Bull in itself. But seeking clarification on a matter which, for us, it’s somehow obviously unclear.” Mattia Binotto
Photo by: Ferrari
The race notes for the Monaco Grand Prix did indeed emphasize that drivers had to stay to the right of the line rather than cross it.
The official event notes stated: “In accordance with Chapter 4 (Section 5) of Appendix L to the ISC drivers must keep to the right of the solid yellow line at the pit exit when leaving the pits and stay to the right of this line until it finishes after Turn 1.”
It is a stance that has been present for a while and did indeed change after the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix, when coincidentally Verstappen himself was investigated for potentially crossing the line.
Back then, Verstappen escaped punishment because there had been no ‘conclusive evidence’ that the Dutchman had crossed completely over the white line separating the pit exit from the track.
But that incident did trigger some debate about what ‘crossing over’ a line did actually mean.
Did the car have to go completely the other side of the line to ‘cross’ it, or was it enough for a rules breach to be classified as simply touching it – therefore crossing its inner boundary?
The debate triggered by the Verstappen event prompted a small change in the regular F1 event notes for the following event.
For Turkey, in reference to the pitlane exit lines, Michael Masi had written “In accordance with Chapter 4 (Section 5) of Appendix L to the ISC drivers must keep to the left of the solid white line at the pit exit when leaving the pits . No part of any car leaving the pits may cross this line.”
For the following race (although later corrected to ‘right hand side’), it had been changed to lose the previous second sentence: “In accordance with Chapter 4 (Section 5) of Appendix L to the ISC drivers must keep to the left of the solid white line at the pit exit when leaving the pits.”
The new clarification meant that if any part of the car (which in reality is the tire) went over the inside edge of the line, then that would be enough for a breach because it was no longer to the side of it.
This became the accepted standard and, based on what event notes were saying, nothing had changed – as Freitas’s note for Monaco confirmed.
So when there was some debate about whether or not Red Bull’s drivers had touched the line, Ferrari’s actions seemed inevitable given the apparent contradiction.
However, in the background, things had changed at the FIA – with the specific section of the International Sporting Code being modified for 2022 to emphasize the ‘crossing the line’ element.
Back in 2020, the ISC section stated: “Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the Stewards), any line painted on the track at the pit exit for the purpose of separating cars leaving the pits from those on the track must not be crossed by any part of a car leaving the pits.”
That was modified at the end of last year, to apply for this season, to say: “Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the Stewards), any tire of a car exiting the pit lane must not cross any line painted on the track at the pit exit for the purpose of separating cars leaving the pit lane from those on the track.”
This wording puts the emphasis back on crossing the line, rather than touching it, and now revolves around the tires than just a single car part.
And in the FIA’s verdict after the Monaco GP it stated that the ISC takes precedent at all times.
Therefore Freitas’s advice in the event notes, which had been ‘cut and paste’ from last year’s Monaco notes, were not valid.
So even though Verstappen had part of his tires over the yellow line (Perez was fully in the clear), the entire tire had not crossed over so there was no rules breach.
As the stewards’ statement said: “The car did not “cross” the line – to do so it would have needed to have a full wheel to the left of the yellow line.
“Accordingly the driver did not breach the relevant section of the Code and this takes precedent over any interpretation of the Notes.”
There are two interesting consequences of this clarification.
The first is that now the pitlane exit line can be abused much more by drivers than some may have believed before.
Where once they may have treated it as a hard stop to not touch, the current interpretation is that they can run wide across it as long as their whole wheel does not cross over.
This means drivers now have extra scope to potentially be more defensive when coming out of the pits by using more track on the run out of the pits.
Beyond that, the Monaco decisions has also put into question any of the decisions in the regular event notes from the race director – since it is now accepted that even if advice is given, that the ISC will take complete precedence.
And in a sport where teams are constantly pushing the boundaries of the rules, it means that there may not be the scope of flexibility in interpretation of regulations that is sometimes needed to close off loopholes that teams are exploiting.