Mercedes knew Lewis Hamilton was going to be in trouble with Formula One stewards when they saw where he was practising his starts for the Russian Grand Prix, according to engineering director Andrew Shovlin.
The six-times world champion, on pole position at Sochi on Sunday, was handed two five second penalties and ended up third in a race won by team mate Valtteri Bottas.
The penalties put on hold his bid to equal Michael Schumacher’s record 91 wins and trimmed his championship lead to 44 points.
Hamilton had asked Mercedes on his way to the grid whether he could practise starts further out of the pit lane where there was less discarded rubber, and was told to proceed.
“We hadn’t realised quite how far he was he was going to go,” said Shovlin.
“We didn’t see the first one. When we saw the second one we thought ‘they’re not going to like that’.
“We thought it might have been ambiguous enough that we would have just got a telling-off. But when we saw the car position, it wasn’t a complete surprise that they didn’t like it.”
Shovlin said rivals could also have flagged it up to the governing FIA or stewards as much as the officials spotting for themselves.
Hamilton, surprised by the penalties, told reporters afterwards he did not think he had done anything out of the ordinary.
“If you look at probably every race that I’ve done this year, at least, I always start further down. Never, ever had a problem, done it for years,” he said.
“I don’t like to be on the rubber, that’s where everyone has done all their starts so it’s not representative of what it’s like on the grid, so I try to get onto the surface that doesn’t have any rubber.”
F1 says COVID positives show protocols are working
An increased number of positive COVID-19 results in the run up to last Sunday’s Russian Formula One Grand Prix shows that safety protocols are working well, the sport said on Monday.
Seven people were positive from 3,256 tests between Sept. 18-24 on the drivers, teams and personnel. There had been only nine from the nine previous rounds.
“Formula One and the FIA safety protocols are working very effectively including testing, tracing and other safety measures to ensure social distancing,” said a Formula One spokesman.
“We have always said that there will be positive cases and we have shown that when they occur we can deal with the situation safely without disruption to an event.”
Six of the latest positives were understood to be ancillary staff, including contracted cleaners, and the other a British television presenter who did not travel to Russia.
The sport has conducted 47,000 tests since the July opener in Austria.
All those tested must return a negative result before granted access to the paddock and there is no interaction between fans and drivers.
The Russian Grand Prix was the first race of the year with a substantial number of spectators attending.
The first eight rounds were held behind closed doors due to the pandemic, with some 2,880 a day then allowed into the Tuscan Grand Prix at Italy’s Mugello circuit.
The paddock remains closed to all but essential staff and teams, who are operating in bubbles to limit the risk of infection and have travelled to races directly on charter flights.
Racing Point’s Sergio Perez is the only driver to have tested positive so far, with the Mexican missing two races in August. He finished fourth in Sochi on Sunday.
Russia has the world’s fourth highest number of infections, with the number rising steadily in recent weeks.