Mercedes GP had decided not to continue with its appeal of the penalty assessed to Michael Schumacher at the Monaco Grand Prix, which dropped Schumacher for sixth to twelfth place.
While many teams support Mercedes’ interpretation of the rules, many teams which benefitted from the penalty were poised to file counter-suits, and Mercedes felt the legal battles would not be worth the cost or effort.
The problem arose after Jarno Trulli’s Lotus collided with Karun Chandhok’s HRT with three laps left in the Monaco Grand Prix.
Under rules instituted this season, races ending under a yellow flag will be given different treatment, as per Regulation 40:13: the safety car will pull into the pits, but the field will continue to circulate under yellow-flag rules, with overtaking prohibited.
The safety car pulls off the track to create a better photo opportunity. TV and still photographers complained that they could not get a good shot of the winner if he was half-obscured by the safety car, with its flashing lights.
At Monaco, after the safety car pulled into the pits, track officials waved the green flag and turned the track condition lights from yellow to green, indicating that the race was restarting, as per Regulation 40:11. The race organizers also sent a broadcast to the team managers, saying “Safety Car in this lap, Track Clear.”
When the leading drivers saw the green flag, they accelerated towards the finish line. Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso accelerated too hard and spun his tires, giving Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher a chance to pass him.
Protests immediately flooded in, as many teams complained that the pass was illegal because a yellow-flag condition still obtained. However, the Formula1.com website section on “Flags” states : Green flag: All clear. The driver has passed the potential danger point and prohibitions imposed by yellow flags have been lifted.
The case was further complicated by two factors: first, the regulations only allow one penalty, a drive-through, where a driver is ordered to drive down pit lane and pass through the pits, which is effectively a one-third or one-half-lap penalty. If the race is over, a driver may have time added to his finishing time.
The usual penalty is 25 seconds. According to regulations drive-through penalties may not be appealed. For some reason the stewards decided to penalize Schumacher 20 seconds. This moved him from sixth place to 12th, and stripped him of eight championship points.
Apparently the stewards did not have the legal ability to simply move Schmacher’s finishing position to what it had been before the pass, which many think would have been the fairest solution.
The second complicating factor is that one of the stewards was Damon Hill, an ex-driver who was a rival of Schumacher’s. In 1994, Hill and Schumacher were closely contending the Drivers’ Championship. In the final race of the season, Schumacher, whose car was damaged, deliberately wrecked Hill. Neither could finish the race, and Schumacher won the championship by one point.
Damon Hill has reported that he has received hate mail from angry Schumacher fans.
At Mercedes urging, the conflicting and unclear rules will be discussed at the next meeting of the FIA Sporting Working Group.