How Russell escaped a penalty for a fourth track limits infringement at F1 Qatar GP

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George Russell escaped a penalty for track limits violations at the 2023 F1 Qatar GP, despite going off limits for a fourth time after receiving a black and white flag for his third infringement, in a strange turn of events that was missed by race control.

Photo credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team

The Briton exceed track limits at least four times during Sunday’s Qatar GP and got away without a penalty from the stewards.

The FIA’s race director’s event notes for the event noted on point 17 that “the white lines define the track edges. During Quaiifying, Sprint Shootout, Sprint and the race, each time a driver fails to negotiate with the track limits, this will result in that lap time being invalidated by the stewards.”

After each race, the stewards release a document which contains every single deleted lap time during the course of the race and the exact time of day in which the infraction occurred. By taking a look at the notes for the 2023 Qatar GP, George Russell had three lap times deleted.

The first one was his 1:30.052 on lap eight, the second one being his 1:30.090 on lap 10, and the third one, quite a while after, his 1:27.050 on lap 55, which earned him a black-and-white warning flag.

However, another infraction may have gone amiss from the stewards and rival team’s pit walls. Russell’s onboard camera shows he went completely off the track on the exit of turn 10 on lap 46, catching a snap of oversteer and veering off bounds in his W14, to set a lap of a 1:26.901, which doesn’t appear as deleted in the post-event FIA documents. This would be his fourth violation and would automatically mean a 5-second time penalty, all things being normal.

The moment can be seen here to anyone who has access to F1TV’s official stream of the race, at about 1 hour and 20 minutes in, on George Russell’s onboard camera.

There were some conversations on the radio between Charles Leclerc – who was directly behind Russell – and his engineer about the gap to Russell, with a possible time penalty inbound for the Briton if he was found guilty for another track limits violation that may have gone unnoticed, just as it actually happened – with Leclerc urging his Ferrari team to have a look at all of Russell’s laps:

Xavier Marcos Padros“Gap to Russell 4.9, and P5.”

Charles Leclerc“What’s the gap to Russell you said?”

XMP“4.9, but he has only three strikes, only three strikes ok. We’ll see later on.”

CL“Yeah, check all of his laps, Russell.”

XMP“Copy, we will do.”

Speaking after the race, Leclerc stated he started to take “risks” in the final few laps to close the gap to the Mercedes driver, hoping a penalty would come for the Briton:

“I think George [Russell} probably didn’t push as much, I wasn’t putting him under too much pressure,” he said. “At the end I heard about the track limits, and then I pushed a bit more, taking more risks.

“So I got within five seconds [the penalty window}, which is what we wanted and now we’ll see what happens.”

In the end, Russell’s 1:26.901 stood and no action was taken, meaning he retained his fourth place ahead of Leclerc – had he got a penalty, his gap of 4.857s to the Monegasque would mean he would lose his place by just under 0.15s.

It’s worth noting that Lando Norris got his final lap in Q3 in Friday’s qualifying session deleted for track limits at the same corner Russell went off, on the exit of turn 10, which meant the McLaren driver started the race down in 10th place.

It begs the question of how Russell and Mercedes were let off the hook so easily by both the FIA and the Ferrari pit wall – which should’ve been hot on the case given the possibility of earning extra points with Leclerc for the Constructors’ Championship.