Hungarian Grand Prix – Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas moved on the grid before the lights went out on Sunday, so why was he not penalised for a jump start?
Bottas started Sunday’s race from P2 on the grid, but fell down the order quickly at lights out as he bogged down. He had appeared to jump the start, moving before the five red lights went out, and stopped again before getting going. Even though he had lost positions, it appeared to be a clear cut case of jumping the lights. But the Finn went unpunished for the apparent transgression, something which led to some confusion as other drivers were investigated for what seemed like more minor breaches.
The penalties for a jump start can be a five second, ten second or drive through penalty, yet none were applied to Bottas. The Sporting Regulations classify a jump start as a driver who ‘moved before the start signal is given, such judgement being made by an FIA approved and supplied transponder fitted to each car.’ This seems to be a slam dunk penalty, with Bottas clearly moving before the five red lights going out.
Speaking after the race, FIA Race Director Michael Masi said: “Within the Sporting Regulations, the manner in which a jump start or false start is determined is through a sensor on each car through the timing trasponder. That’s the same as it has been for many years, I think the last one we had was in Japan last year [Sebastian Vettel] and the sensor and the tolerance was within tolerance. That is the official means, there is no other means in the regulations to determine if there’s a jump start.”
“One team asked about it and, as soon as I said it’s within the tolerances of the sensor, they were fine.”
Bottas explained the start from his perspective afterwards, saying he was distracted by his steering wheel dash changing colour: “I reacted to a light on my dash that went off. I don’t know what it was, so something changed on my dash and I reacted to that instead of the start light and I had to do the start again and lost it there.”
“I believe it was the main page of the dash changed a different colour or something – a really bright colour.
“So that’s all that was needed for me to react. I thought the lights went off, and anyway I was kind of half seeing the start lights because of the halo and the position I was in.
“It was an odd situation and I’m sure we’re going to review the onboard [camera] and what exactly happened. I will make sure nothing is changing in the dash anymore at a crucial moment, because we don’t want any distraction like that in a sensitive moment.”
The argument that Bottas hadn’t left his grid box by crossing the white line doesn’t really carry a whole lot of weight, for me. Regardless of whether a driver has crossed the white line or not doesn’t change the fact that Bottas visually moved his car before the start signal – something which is supposed to be a penalty regardless of whether the driver gains an advantage from it or not. Relying on a sensor to trigger is peak F1 – deciding a penalty based on that rather than simply looking at the car moving continuously from the moment Bottas initially moves just seems a bit silly. We constantly see F1 being sticklers for the rules in other situations, including for penalising Haas for breaking a Technical Directive which isn’t even part of the Sporting Regulations in the very same race.
Looking back at Sebastian Vettel’s similar mistake from Japan last year, it’s more evident he came to a complete stop. But, he still moved before the lights went out. The fact he lost out as a result of this should be irrelevant. Vettel should have been given a penalty then, as should Bottas on Sunday.