Formula One’s top drivers became embroiled in a heated debate over race rules after the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix, it has emerged: Scuderia Ferrari German driver Sebastian Vettel, main title rival Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean all attended the drivers’ briefing after the race in Suzuka. Lewis Hamilton won the race, while Sebastian Vettel was forced to retire after just four laps due to a spark plug failure. And the debate quickly turned to race rules concerning the steering wheel and seat belts.
Scuderia Ferrari’s German driver was not reprimanded for taking his steering wheel with him after crashing into Lance Stroll after the Malaysian Grand Prix had concluded two weekends ago. Lewis Hamilton brought up the incident, before Romain Grosjean chipped in about the Brits’ tendency to loosen or undo his seat belt after races.
The full transcript, which includes the drivers questioning FIA race director Charlie Whiting, was picked up by Sky Sports and reads:
Hamilton: “I heard that Sebastian didn’t put his steering wheel back on.”
Whiting: “Seb actually took his steering wheel with him. I think it was a reasonable common sense approach for us to take, not to do anything about that. A) the race had finished, and b) the car didn’t need the steering wheel for the marshals to manoeuvre it. For me, under the circumstances, it was not worth reporting to the stewards.”
Grosjean: “Charlie, after the chequered flag are you allowed to undo the belt?”
Whiting: “Any further?”
Grosjean: “Well, Lewis has been doing it quite a lot.”
Whiting: “You say undo, or loosen them? I think loosening them is reasonable, don’t you? You said undo, I thought you meant take them off completely.”
Grosjean: “I don’t know if you can really undo them. I’m just asking because I think it’s great for the fans but I just wanted to make sure…”
Whiting: “I think at the speeds Lewis was driving at, I would say that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to allow you to do.”
Grosjean: “So you can undo them?”
Whiting: “Loosen them I said, not undo them. There’s a big difference.”
Felipe Massa: “You cannot loosen them. It’s very difficult to. You need to just take it off.”
Whiting: “I was asked a question, can you undo them? And I said no you should not undo them but if you can loosen them off, I don’t think there’s a big issue with that. But you’re saying you don’t think you can anyway, the only option is to undo them?”
Whiting: “I don’t think this has become a big issue, has it? Lewis, what do you do? Do you loosen them or do you undo them?”
Hamilton [laughing]: “Undo them. I don’t do it very often but sometimes, Montreal I did and a few other races.”
Whiting: “You may have started something here, Romain.”
Grosjean: “I think it’s great, it’s great for the fans because they get to see a bit more of the drivers, I just wanted to get clarification.”
Hamilton: “Why would you need clarification on it?”
Grosjean: “Because sometimes you don’t put the steering wheel back on and you can get a fine and it doesn’t make sense if the wheels are completely out of the car. I just wanted to know.”
Hamilton: “… Interesting.”
Whiting: “We can clarify that if you really think it’s worth it.”
Hamilton: “We’re driving so slow but I mean, maybe Sebsatian should keep his on.” [Cue laughter around the room]
Vettel [smiling]: “Steering wheel or belt? I’m confused now.”
Whiting: “That is something we’ve seen happen, isn’t it [Vettel’s crash in Malaysia]? Needn’t have of course but it did and something similar could happen.”
Grosjean: “I don’t want to start an argument or whatever, I just want to know what can we do, what can we not do, what are the rules? It’s as simple as that.”
Whiting: “I don’t think you should undo the belts, I don’t think that’s a very good thing. I think we’ve seen what can happen on a slowing down lap. We’ve seen what can happen on a slowing down lap so I think it’s bad practice. I imagined you had loosened off the belts but it appears not to be the case.
Hamilton: “I’ve only done it when I win to wave to fans.”
Whiting: “I understand.”
Hamilton: “But I do slow down massively.”
In winning the race Hamilton opened up a 59-point lead on Vettel in the Drivers’ Championship.