Track limits played a pivotal role in the outcome of F1’s entertaining 2021 season opener.
With four laps to go, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen overtook erstwhile leader Lewis Hamilton at Turn 4 but had to hand the position back to the world champion after leaving the track.
In qualifying, track limit transgressions at Turn 4 led to deleted laptimes, but for Sunday’s race drivers were initially cleared to cross the kerbs without consequence.
Only after several off-track excursions, Hamilton was told by his team to stay within the white lines after a warning from race control, an apparent mid-race clampdown which ironically turned into the Briton’s favour in his fight with Verstappen.
Race control’s intervention led to fresh confusion over how track limits are enforced, with Mercedes chief Wolff urging the FIA to be clearer and more consistent in the future.
“I’m equally confused like you,” Wolff said. “At the beginning of the race it was said track limits in Turn 4 wouldn’t be sanctioned and then in the race suddenly we heard that if you would continue to run wide it would be seen as an advantage and could cause a potential penalty.
“And then at the end that decision actually made us win the race. Max ran wide in the definition of the race director, gaining an advantage, he had to give back the position and that saved our victory.
“So we need to be consistent in which messages are being given. They need to be clear, they need to be sacred and not a Shakespeare novel that leaves interpretation.”
Wolff revealed he and Mercedes sporting director Ron Meadows were in contact with FIA race director Michael Masi during the race to seek clarification.
“The message that reached the drivers was that very simply track limits in Turn 4 wouldn’t be sanctioned in the race,” Wolff added.
“Ron and I were speaking to Michael [Masi] during the race. Michael referred to the note saying ‘Yes, but only if you’re not gaining an advantage’ and that was in the notes. I haven’t seen them.
“I think the learning of this is it needs to be simple, so everybody can understand it and they don’t need to carry the document in the car to read it and remind themselves what actually is allowed and what not. “