Hülkenberg vs. Stewards: FIA rules put to the test

Saturday of the Formula 1 weekend in Austria brought one thing above all for Nico Hülkenberg: patiently waiting for steward decisions. After the sprint, the German received a 10-second penalty and two penalty points for forcing Fernando Alonso off the track during the race. He dropped from P14 to P19 – so this did not have any serious consequences for the World Championship ranking.

Sprint penalty causes a stir: Alonso defends Hülkenberg

“I was very surprised when I heard that. I went to the stewards to ask them for a statement.” Although the penalty did not hit the Haas driver hard from a sporting point of view, Hülkenberg was not understanding. He has a different opinion on the matter. “When everything is at the limit, you have to take a certain risk and go a little out of your comfort zone. I did not push him off intentionally. Both front axles locked – that happens at the end of a tire’s lifespan, when everything is at the limit,” said Hülkenberg, explaining his view of the situation in the sprint.

Of all things Fernando Alonso, who suffered from Hülkenberg’s action, defended his opponent and considered the penalty too harsh: “The maneuver was certainly too optimistic. But I don’t agree with the penalty points – again. Because if we don’t race against each other and aren’t allowed to overtake, we can’t achieve anything. If you make a mistake, you have to pay the price. For example, by giving back position or receiving a time penalty. But I don’t think it was a dangerous maneuver on his part. He simply tried to overtake – a bit too optimistic, but I still don’t understand the penalty points.”

Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso in a duel with Nico Hülkenberg in the Haas
Nico Hülkenberg received a 10-second penalty for his maneuver against Fernando Alonso in the sprint, Photo: LAT Images

Hülkenberg again at the stewards: regulations must be changed!

But the penalty for the maneuver in the sprint did not mean that the encounter between Hülkenberg and the FIA ​​stewards in Spielberg was over. After qualifying, part two followed, when the Haas driver was summoned to a hearing again due to two incidents.

Hülkenberg came under the scrutiny of race control during qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix for misconduct in the pit lane. The violation related to the article of the International Sporting Code that states that cars in the fast lane have priority over those leaving the garage. Haas violated this rule for the first time in Q1 when it pulled out just ahead of Alex Albon’s Williams and a second time in Q2 when it lined up just ahead of Sergio Perez’s Red Bull.

However, the article in question also states that once a car has left its garage, it should move into the fast lane as soon as possible if it is safe to do so. Unnecessary obstructions should be avoided. This is also the point that the stewards’ verdict for Hülkenberg revolves around.

After reviewing the camera footage, the stewards concluded that there was no suitable gap to merge at the time Hülkenberg left his pit box. However, they took into account that the team’s pit box is at the end of the pit lane, where congestion often forms. This made it virtually impossible for Haas to find a suitable gap. The blame for merging into the fast lane and the potential obstruction is not placed on the driver, but on the team. Haas received a warning for the first incident, but no further action was taken for the second incident due to the even more difficult circumstances, according to the FIA ​​decision document.

At the Sky microphone, the Emmerich native was relaxed about the threat of a penalty even before the verdict was announced: “At most, we’ll get fresh flowers, nothing else.” Nevertheless, the Formula 1 driver made the fundamental problem clear: “Our position in the pit lane is simply ungrateful. You can’t see much, it’s a blind spot. It’s a real disadvantage because you always have to let everyone pass and line up at the back. Then you have problems with the timing and the temperatures and everything.” Hülkenberg demanded that the FIA ​​take another look at this particular situation. Because since the new rules on the specified delta time in the warm-up lap in qualifying came into force, the problem of congestion in the pit lane has become more frequent.

“If we pull out far ahead of someone who is at the back of the queue, we should be allowed to drive. Otherwise we always lose in the end. I don’t think that’s fair or right,” said Hülkenberg, who would like to make suggestions for improvement to the officials and hopes that the regulations will change in this regard.

Friday frustrated, Saturday triumphant: Hülkenberg impresses again in Q3

Sportingly, things went well – Contrary to his own prediction on Friday after the sprint qualifying, things still went quite well for Nico Hülkenberg on Saturday: “I’m glad that I’ve recovered after yesterday. This morning I was actually happy with my sprint. The way I managed to stay in the heavy traffic and the way the car behaved gave me confidence for the qualification,” said the German, who only qualified for 17th place in the sprint on Friday and did not expect any progress on Saturday.

Nico Hülkenberg had already written off his weekend on Friday. How the sprint qualifying went for Verstappen, Leclerc and Co. as well as the other focal points of Friday in Spielberg is highlighted by Christian in this video:

Red Bull dispute escalates! Did Horner kick Verstappen out? (09:37 min.)

The learning curve from Friday to Saturday is particularly evident in comparison to his teammate Kevin Magnussen, who set the pace on Friday and was clearly inferior to Hülkenberg in the sprint qualifying. Hülkenberg worked his way forward bit by bit. “It was a process in which I got a better and better feel for the car. I made progress in Q1 and Q2 and the lap in Q2 was very important because it got us into the top 10. Q3 wasn’t perfect, but I think we got the maximum out of it today. The first eight cars ahead of us aren’t in our race tomorrow,” said the German, analyzing his qualifying, in which he ended up in ninth place.

Remarkably, the progress has been made without Haas making any major setup changes. According to Hülkenberg, the difference lies in the finer details: “Sometimes it just depends on the feeling and the rhythm. In sprint qualifying you only have one attempt. It’s as if the session is over before it has even started. If a few details are wrong and you don’t find the perfect harmony and the perfect feeling – as was the case yesterday – then you are behind.”

Hülkenberg is optimistic about the race, for which he has already positioned himself well in advance: “This morning, Kevin had a very decent pace. He was even able to pull away from Aston Martin and Alpine. We don’t have to be afraid or hide. I think we have a decent package for everyone in the midfield.”

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