Hamilton’s Turn-One in Mexico: Do more Circuits need to Define Limits?

Lewis Hamilton’s turn-one mishap at the Mexican Grand Prix was a paradox in that he was deemed by the stewards to have gained nothing given a safety car appearance that caused the British driver to lose any considerable track position advantage as the followers caught up. But if the corner had been a punishing one for mistakes, then he would have found himself further down the order once the safety car appeared.

The focus of this incident has been framed incorrectly in that the argument shouldn’t have been about Hamilton neutralizing a gained advantage, but getting away with a big error without losing his P1 advantage. Cast your mind back to the start of the Canadian Grand Prix. Vettel had an incredible start and got ahead of the Mercedes duo going into turn-one as Rosberg left his car optimistically on the outside of Hamilton. The German ran out of road and had to take to the grass.

The nature of turn-one at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve meant that despite cutting the corner, Rosberg found himself down the order as an instant toll for the mistake. That one error of judgement at turn-one denied Mercedes a 1-2. It’s very doubtful that Hamilton would have had to fend off a significant challenge from Rosberg had he not made the error, but the German driver ended up finishing 5th, 8-points down on a 2nd place finish.

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 12:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo and Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo at the start during the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 12, 2016 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC – JUNE 12: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo and Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo at the start during the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 12, 2016 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

Turn-One at the Mexican Grand Prix was arguably a greater mistake from a driving perspective in that Hamilton had made such an impressive start that he was taking the corner uncontested. Had he out-braked himself at Turn-one in Canada, or any other circuit that wields instant justice at the first turn of a wheel, he’d have found himself emerging with grass-stained rubber somewhere in the pack.

He got away with it and it’s hard to imagine any driver in that position, even those currently calling for change as a result, holding their hands up and proclaiming guilt. These are racing drivers and they will eke out any advantage they can.

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Peter J Fox/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 23: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States. (Photo by Peter J Fox/Getty Images)

One of the biggest critics of the turn-one incident is Daniel Ricciardo. He said,

“I am bit of a fan of gravel traps because it is a proper deterrent. Even if you do get though the gravel trap with good speed, you still have stuff in your radiators or stones on your tyres, so there is more of a penalty.

I don’t like how a driver can make a mistake while defending, cut through it and continue. So the first corner with Lewis, I don’t think that was right.

It was the first lap and a crucial time and if you make a mistake like that, you should pay more of a price.”

– Daniel Ricciardo

Despite the magnitude of reaction that Hamilton’s first-lap grass-cutting has caused, it probably does nothing to the context of the World Championship this season. If Rosberg doesn’t DNF, the title is his. It does start a much needed conversation about run-off areas though.

Another argument for more defined track limits is that it takes out human judgement, which can sometimes be wrong. The racing stewards would have an easier time if the circuit policed itself. Had there been gravel to slow Hamilton down, then emerging P5, P6, whatever, would have given the stewards one less thing to be fearful of officiating over.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner also offered a perspective on the matter with,

“Bernie’s view it put a wall there….which is probably one end of the spectrum.

But I definitely think there is an argument for a gravel trap, because then if you end up in the gravel you either lose an enormous amount of time or you are out of the race. I think it really is something that should be looked at for corners like Turn 1 to see if gravel is a better deterrent than large asphalt run off areas.

It remains too open to interpretation because, why was Max’s move any different to Lewis’ at the chicane in Monte Carlo? Or Lewis on that corner here? Again, you are leaving it constantly up to the stewards’ interpretation on individual events. If there is a gravel trap there, they pay the price and it is as simple as that.”

– Christian Horner

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 30:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his win in parc ferme during the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 30, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his win in parc ferme during the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 30, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

To stop any suggestion that these Red Bull people are only coming out because they are arguing against a singular event in which Mercedes gained an advantage would be short-sighted. These are suggestions that will surely cost every team points at some stage in the future should they be implemented. If these really are the best drivers in the world, make anything beyond the defined limits of the circuit a time penalty and the guy who can keep it on-track won’t be disadvantaged by Scott-free corner cutting from others.