FIA race director Michael Masi has explained why Charles Leclerc was shown a black and white flag rather than given a penalty during his battle with Lewis Hamilton in the Italian Grand Prix.
Leclerc squeezed Hamilton under braking for the second chicane after the Mercedes attacked down the outside, forcing Hamilton to take evasive action and use the run-off area. The stewards warned Leclerc with a black and white flag – as opposed to a five-second time penalty for a similar scenario involving Max Verstappen at Turn 1 a year ago– and Masi said the approach was the result of wider discussions with the drivers.
“I think there’s two parts to that,” Masi explained. “One, there was contact last year with Max, so that’s one part of it. The second part of it is that we need to remember a couple of points – the discussion with the drivers in Bahrain about ‘let them race’, the subsequent discussions that have been ongoing with team principals, drivers, sporting directors…
“Then you look at it particularly in the context of Spa, where we said we are going to reintroduce the use of the bad sportsmanship flag. (Pierre) Gasly, for a very similar incident in Spa, received the bad sportsmanship flag, so in that case there was no contact and it was, if you use the analogy, it was the professional foul. It was Charles’ warning.
“It changes the dynamic and I think there’s various factors of, the ‘let them race’ principles, the ongoing discussions that have been happening throughout the year, they’ve all played a part in that.”
Leclerc admitted he has taken a more aggressive approach to racing since losing out to Verstappen in the closing stages in Austria – where the pair made contact – but Masi is not concerned that the Ferrari driver is now driving differently.
“I don’t think aggression is probably the right word,” he said. “That might be his words, but I think, is it hard racing? Yes. From that perspective, I don’t think you can compare what has happened in those instances versus these.
“It’s ultimately the stewards’ decision if somebody gets penalized or the bad sportsmanship flag, but if the stewards feel there was more to it then we absolutely have the capability of issuing a penalty, and that’s exactly where it sits.
“I think it was hard. The black and white was issued for the reason it was there. It’s quite simple for me, and a carbon copy of what Pierre did last weekend in Spa. It achieved its purpose.”
Masi also clarified that Sebastian Vettel received a harsher penalty than Lance Stroll – a 10-second stop/go compared to a drive-through – for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner because he also made contact with the Racing Point. Stroll forced Gasly off track when he rejoined, but there was no contact.