Officials have launched an investigation into the track invasion that marred Ferrari’s celebration of a dominant victory in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix. As Sebastian Vettel was celebrating while still on his slowing down lap, spectators swarmed on to the track before all of the cars had returned to the pitlane, in breach of FIA safety regulations.
“People were running on the track, it was unbelievable,” Vettel said.
Race organiser Andrew Westacott confirmed the breach was being investigated. “I am concerned because we have very, very strict processes that for 21 races have worked beautifully, so something went amiss. We don’t know what yet, but we have got an investigation happening with our people, including CAMS [Australia’s motorsport governing body], who obviously look after the track from a race organisation point of view and a race control point of view.”
This will centre on whether confusion among race marshals led to a premature signal to fans that it was safe to access the track so that they could gather as usual on the start/finish line to watch the podium ceremonies.
“From what I am led to believe, there could have been a mistake made in the signals as to when people could exit on to the track,” Westacott said. “That is being investigated, so I won’t speculate on the outcome of that until I have all the facts. We have CCTV, we have radio logs and other things so we can understand what happened.”
It is possible that the breach could result in a sanction for the race organisers from the sport’s governing body.
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton has called upon Mercedes to make improvements to alleviate the tyre wear issue that compromised his race. He led initially from pole position but was obliged by the state of his tyres to make an earlier pit stop, which enabled Vettel and Ferrari to prise away the win on Sunday evening.
The problem was an echo of one Mercedes have not had since 2013, and may in part be due to changes they (and Red Bull) were obliged to make to their complex inter-linked suspension system upon the insistence of FIA technical officials prior to the start of the new season.
One technical insider in Melbourne suggested that another rival may have played what amounted to a game of battleships with the FIA, asking for clarifications of what is permissible in the suspension, piece by piece, until they fully understood it and ‘hit’ Mercedes’ battleship.
Hamilton suggested that it was a mistake for Mercedes to continue with the strategy of trying to open a gap to Vettel in the early stages, which exacerbated his tyre wear, and said: “We continued on this road, which just didn't end up working out. There's an area that we have to work on, obviously our tyre usage is something that we understand is where we're losing. So we're just trying to make changes to improve that in the future, which we will do. We could have done better.
"I wouldn't say I'm happy. With all things in perspective, we've come from a massive rule change. But to see us come here and be battling so closely for a win and missing out marginally, there's a lot of things to be incredibly proud of. I could've won the race today and there's certain things that we could've perhaps done better, but I gave it everything I could. You can't win them all.
"It's great to see Ferrari up there. I think it's good for the sport that we have this close battle.”
He also hinted, without elaborating, that there were other internal procedural protocols that the team will be investigating to improve their performance before the Chinese Grand Prix in April.