Insight: The last-lap Monaco pass
17 May 2010 – The Monaco Grand Prix featured the first real controversy of 2010 after what has been a generally civilised start to the campaign. However, the FIA International Court of Appeal (ICA) is now required for the first time this year after Michael Schumacher was handed a 20-second penalty for his last-lap pass on Fernando Alonso.
The incident in question would never have happened had Jarno Trulli and Karun Chandhok not collided at Rascasse on Lap 75 of 78, with leader Mark Webber having had to avoid the crash as his Red Bull was directly behind, due to lap the Lotus and Hispania.
With the Italian's car coming to rest atop that of the Indian, the Safety Car was naturally deployed by FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting, meaning that yellow flags are displayed around the circuit and no driver must overtake before the silver Mercedes sports car peels off into the pit lane.
At this point, Alonso was running sixth for Ferrari and one place ahead of Schumacher, having leapfrogged the Mercedes during pit-stops.
New rule for 2010
Since the start of this season, regulations have been modified regarding Safety Car restarts. In previous years, the car would switch its lights off before pulling back into the pit lane, green flags would be displayed around the circuit and racing could result once cars had crossed the start/finish line.
However, overtaking can now recommence once cars have past the Safety Car line, which is located before the pit lane entrance and, in Monte-Carlo's case, on the exit of La Rascasse corner, meaning overtaking can begin from this point onwards on any other lap of the race.
Prior to Monaco 2010, only two races in F1 history had reached their last lap under Safety Car conditions - the 1999 Canadian Grand Prix and 2009 Australian Grand Prix, in which Mika Häkkinen and Jenson Button drove the field across the line, with the Safety Car having pulled into the pit lane on the final lap, to record their respective victories for McLaren and Brawn.
Such a situation is addressed in article 40.13 of the most recent version of the FIA's Formula One Sporting Regulations, which were published on 11 February this year:
'If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.'
With this in mind, it is clear that Mercedes GP and Michael Schumacher have contravened the rules and have been penalised by race stewards as a result, who were incidentally presented with a number of options, as stated in article 18.1:
'The stewards may inflict the penalties specifically set out in these Sporting Regulations in addition to or instead of any other penalties available to them under the Code.'
According to article 16.3, 'The stewards may impose any one of three penalties on any driver involved in an Incident :
a) A drive-through penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane and re-join the race without stopping ;
b) A ten second time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop at his pit for at least ten seconds and then re-join the race.
c) a drop of any number of grid positions at the driver's next Event.
However, should either of the penalties under a) and b) above be imposed during the last five laps, or after the end of a race, Article 16.4b) below will not apply and 20 seconds will be added to the elapsed race time of the driver concerned in the case of a) above and 30 seconds in the case of b).'
Post-race opinions from the Team Principals:
Ferrari - Stefano Domenicali: "According to our understanding, the rules are pretty clear but we have to wait for the stewards' decision."
Mercedes - Ross Brawn: "There is a new regulation this year. I think Stefano says that if the race finishes under the Safety Car you can't do that, but the Safety Car went in. The FIA said the Safety Car went in so, according to the instructions of the FIA, the race didn't finish under the Safety Car so we advised our drivers that they could still race between the Safety Car line and finish line. Some even said Michael overtook Alonso under yellow but we have screenshots that there are green flags being waved right before Michael overtook Alonso."
With 20 seconds having been added to Schumacher's race time, dropping him to 12th place, last of the finishers and out of the points, Mercedes GP confirmed on Sunday evening that the incident would be filed for appeal.
However, the Brackley team is able to protest only the stewards' decision (as green flags had been waving), as opposed to the penalty itself, meaning that the punishment will not be lifted even if the team does win the appeal.
The matter will now be addressed in the Paris-based ICA, with dates of the appeal and its outcome yet to be released.
Although the procedure is clearly stated in Formula 1's rules, much gossip has been generated as Damon Hill - the closest 1994 and 1995 World Championship rival of Michael Schumacher - was the weekend's ex driver in Race Control, keeping up with the FIA's new-for-2010 initiative which states that one former driver will be on-hand alongside three other stewards, in this case being José Abed (FIA Vice President), Dr. Christian Calmes (a representative of the Automobile Club de Monaco) and Paul Gutjahr (President of the FIA Hill Climb Commission).
A second irony in the principality is that the much-talked about move took place just metres away from where Schumacher's Ferrari stopped in the 2006 qualifying session, a moment which resulted in him losing that year's pole position and being relegated to the back of the grid by stewards, who deemed that the move was a deliberate ploy to prevent Alonso - then a Renault driver and the closest challenger - from seizing the top spot.