Shortly after the conclusion of the Monte Carlo race, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was in a media briefing when he took a call from sporting director Jonathan Wheatley, who informed him that Ferrari had officially complained.
Ferrari felt that both Red Bull drivers had broken the regulations when they appeared to run over the yellow pit exit after switching to slick tires on lap 22.
During the race, Perez’s incident was noticed by the stewards, but there was no further communication.
And subsequent footage of Verstappen on board showed he was much further over the line than his team-mate, so may have been at greater risk of having broken rules that would normally earn him a time penalty.
Ferrari felt the matter needed to be investigated as it felt the FIA would consider it an infringement if any part of the car touched the yellow line.
As Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto explained ahead of the verdict: “The intention to protest is not really a protest against Red Bull per se. But to clarify a matter that is somehow obviously unclear to us.
“I think we believe both Red Bulls were on the line, on the yellow line, when they left the pit lane. And in the past it was always penalized with five seconds.
“More than that, if you read the race director’s notes, it’s clearly written. And that’s clearly written I think [since] Turkey 2020 to avoid misunderstanding that you have to stay to the right of the yellow line.
“To avoid confusion with the word ‘intersection’ you must stay on the line to the right of the yellow line. And that was not the case for us at all.”
“The intention to protest is not really a protest against Red Bull per se. But to clarify a matter that is somehow obviously unclear to us.” Mattia Binotto
Photo by: Ferrari
The race notes for the Monaco Grand Prix actually emphasized that drivers had to stay to the right of the line rather than crossing it.
The official event notices state: “In accordance with Chapter 4 (Section 5) of Appendix L to the ISC, when exiting the pits, drivers must keep to the right of the solid yellow line at the pit exit and remain to the right of that line until it ends after Turn 1.”
It’s an attitude that has been present for a while and actually changed after the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix, when Verstappen himself happened to be under investigation for possibly crossing the line.
Back then, Verstappen escaped punishment because there was no “conclusive evidence” that the Dutchman had completely crossed the white line separating the pit exit from the track.
But this incident sparked some debates about what “crossing” a boundary actually means.
Did the car have to go all the way to the other side of the line to “cross” it, or was it enough that breaking the rules was treated as just touching – i.e. crossing the inner limit?
The debate sparked by the Verstappen event resulted in a small change to the regular F1 event notes for the following event.
For Turkey, Michael Masi had written in relation to the pit exit lines: “In accordance with Chapter 4 (Section 5) of Appendix L to the ISC, drivers must stay to the left of the solid white line at the pit exit when exiting the pits. No part of a car leaving the pits may cross this line.”
For the following race (although later corrected to “Right Side”), the previous second sentence was changed: “In accordance with Chapter 4 (Section 5) of Appendix L to the ISC, drivers must keep to the left of the solid white line at the pit exit when exiting the box.”
The new clarification meant that if any part of the car (which is actually the tyre) went over the inside edge of the line, that was enough for an infraction because it was no longer to the side of it.
This became the accepted standard and, based on the event notes, nothing had changed – as confirmed by Freitas’ note for Monaco.
So when there was a debate about whether or not Red Bull’s drivers had touched the line, Ferrari’s actions seemed inevitable given the apparent contradiction.
In the background, however, things had changed at the FIA - with the specific section of the International Sporting Code being amended for 2022 to emphasize the ‘crossing the line’ element.
Back in 2020, the ISC section stated: “Except in cases of force majeure (which will be accepted as such by the stewards), any line painted on the track at the pit exit must protect the cars leaving the pits from those be crossed by any part of a car leaving the pits.”
That was changed for this season late last year and read: “Except in cases of force majeure (which will be accepted as such by the stewards), no tire of a car exiting the pit lane may cross a painted line on the track at the pit exit, to separate the cars exiting the pit lane from those on track.”
This phrasing puts the emphasis back on crossing the line rather than touching it, and now revolves around the tires as just a single car part.
And the FIA’s verdict after the Monaco GP states that the ISC takes precedence at all times.
Therefore, Freitas’ advice in the event notes, which had been “cut and pasted” from last year’s Monaco notes, was not valid.
Although Verstappen had part of his tires over the yellow line (Perez was completely clear), the entire tire was not crossed so there was no infraction.
The statement from the stewards said: “The car did not ‘cross’ the line – it would have had to have a full wheel to the left of the yellow line.
“Accordingly, the driver has not breached the relevant section of the Code and this takes precedence over any interpretation of the Notes.”
Two interesting consequences follow from this clarification.
The first is that the pit lane exit line is now open to much more abuse by drivers than some might have previously believed.
While they used to treat it as a hard stop to avoid touching it, the current interpretation is that they can ride well over it as long as their whole wheel doesn’t cross over.
This means drivers now have extra leeway to potentially be more defensive when coming out of the pits by using more track when exiting the pits.
Furthermore, the Monaco decisions have also called into question all decisions in the race director’s regular event notes – as it is now accepted that even where advice is given, the ISC has full precedence.
And in a sport where teams are constantly pushing the boundaries of the rules, it means there may not be the flexibility in interpreting rules that is sometimes needed to close loopholes that teams exploit.