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Formula 1

Did F1 fail to follow its guidelines in Russell/Perez ruling?

by Ben Anderson
3 min read

Formula 1’s rules of engagement came back into the spotlight once again at the French Grand Prix, where George Russell said he was “disappointed” with the FIA’s handling of his clash with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

Russell’s Mercedes made a lunge on Perez at the Mistral chicane while they battled over fourth place with less than 12 laps to go in the Paul Ricard F1 race.

The Mercedes had its front wheels in line with the the Red Bull’s left sidepod as the cars reached the apex of the left-hand part of the chicane. Russell’s greater momentum carried him to the edge of the circuit in the middle of the chicane, while Perez cut the second part of the corner and remained ahead.

F1’s stewards noted the incident but declined to take action, which infuriated Russell who believed his move was fair and within the new racing guidelines issued this season.

George Russell Mercedes French GP

“I was pretty disappointed not to be able to keep that position,” Russell said. “I felt it was my corner, I was down the inside, I had my front wheels in front of his rear wheels, and to the letter of the law, it was my corner.

“He squeezed me a bit onto the kerb, he went wide and kept his position.”

“The rules are pretty clear,” he told Sky. “If your front tyres are in front of a driver’s rear tyres, you have the right to the corner.”

F1’s governing body has made a concerted attempt to clarify exactly how drivers should race each other on track, following the controversies of Brazil and Abu Dhabi in 2021, when Max Verstappen appeared to twice force Lewis Hamilton off-track during wheel-to-wheel contests.

Lewis Hamilton Max Verstappen Mercedes Red Bull F1

At the start of this year, the FIA said if a driver is overtaking on the inside of a corner, they must “have a significant portion of the car alongside” to be given space and one factor specified in determining that is whether their front tyres are alongside the other car by “no later than the apex of the corner”.

This absolutely applies in the case of Russell versus Perez.

When a driver is trying to pass on the outside both cars must be able to make the corner while remaining “within the limits of the track”. But when a driver is overtaking on the inside it is only their car that must “clearly remain within the limits of the track” – nothing is specified for the car being overtaken.

This implies that drivers on the inside can therefore run as wide as they like on exit, and so crowd their opponent off the track – if they are far enough alongside at the apex.

This is what Russell did, so it would appear – to the letter of the law – Perez should have handed the place over, considering he cut a corner to stay ahead.

Sergio Perez George Russell Red Bull Mercedes French GP

Perez’s argument is that he had to take evasive action to avoid a crash: “If I didn’t cut the corner we’d have retired both cars. I was ahead and he was out of control so I had to escape. If I don’t cut the chicane, there would be contact.”

This is the same logic that applied to Hamilton versus Verstappen in Abu Dhabi 2021, where the stewards deemed Hamilton could remain in the lead despite cutting a corner when Verstappen attempted a first-lap lunge pass.

The stewards appear to have followed a common-sense approach – that the car overtaking should not force the other car off track in the process of passing it.

But the guidelines as written don’t enshrine that right to space. Following the rules as written suggests the stewards made a mistake and Russell is correct to feel aggrieved.

No doubt there will now be further discussions between drivers and officials about what is and isn’t considered acceptable conduct – and whether the FIA is implementing its own guidelines correctly.

“I guess we’ll talk about it after – but nevertheless, these things have a way of working themselves out,” Russell said, referencing his post-virtual safety car overtake on Perez a few laps later.

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