Lewis Hamilton escaped an investigation into his near-miss with Sergey Sirotkin in Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying because it was viewed as an unfortunate misunderstanding by Formula 1 race officials.
The eventual polesitter and the Williams rookie narrowly avoided a huge crash when Sirotkin approached Hamilton at high speed while both were on out-laps in Interlagos Q2.
Hamilton spotted Sirotkin late and moved to the left to try to get off-line just as Sirotkin swerved in the same direction to get past.
The incident was not investigated by the stewards, which surprised many as it was a dramatic moment, compromised their runs into the penultimate corner and meant they started their flying laps almost nose-to-tail.
FIA race director Charlie Whiting admitted “it looked a bit scary” but explained that neither driver being on a timed lap, or predominantly to blame, meant it was never looked into.
“The predominant factor [for not investigating] is both drivers were on an out-lap,” he said.
“Lewis was told Sergey was behind him but he was on an out-lap, so Lewis was thinking, ‘OK we’re fine here, I can do my usual routine, get a gap to the car in front’.
“[Then] Sergey was coming through Turn 11 flat out. Lewis saw him coming and thought ‘There’s a car on a fast lap the team didn’t tell me about’.
“So, he went to move over to let him through and Sergey had already committed left. That was the reason for the incident.
“For me it was just an unfortunate misunderstanding. It was clear immediately to me what happened, that nobody had done anything wrong.
“I discussed it with the stewards, asked if they wanted it investigated and they felt no investigation was warranted.”
Whiting reckoned the result would have been no different had contact been made because it was about cause, not consequence.
“It would quite possibly have been quite a big shunt, but if you looked at the causes they would be the same,” he said.
“That’s why I would have thought the stewards would have come to the same conclusion.”
Another high-profile incident in qualifying, which was investigated and resulted in punishment, was Sebastian Vettel’s transgression at the weighbridge.
Vettel, called in for a random weight check and in a rush at the time thanks to Ferrari’s tyre strategy, hit the cone immediately blocking the entry out of frustration, gesticulated at officials to clear a path and lurched forward with an official standing directly in front of him.
He then drove off under the car’s own power, damaging the scales and flinging them out from behind the Ferrari. He later received a reprimand and a €25,000 fine.
This was considered lenient by some, but Whiting believes it was an “effective” punishment.
“He just lost his cool a little bit and paid the price for it,” said Whiting.
“It’s pretty unprecedented and I think what the stewards did was a good decision.
“You could probably find a range of opinions on this.”