Dennis Hauger lost his chance to take a first F2 win in the Jeddah sprint race as a race control screw-up cost him dear. Craig Woollard explains the situation, and why Prema’s race result appeal fell through
“Unfair” was Dennis Hauger’s assessment of the scenario that led to the reigning FIA Formula 3 champion, the race leader at the time, being erroneously told to drive down the pitlane and down the order in Formula 2’s sprint race in Jeddah.
To compound his woes, he was then slapped with a 10-second stop-go penalty for visiting the pits when it was closed and ended up finishing 16th. It has been a challenging start to life in the second tier for last year’s emphatic FIA F3 title winner.
Hauger’s Prema team chose to appeal the race result, in a similar manner to Mercedes-AMG’s response to the highly controversial conclusion to the 2021 Formula 1 season, in which Max Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton for the win and the title after an application of the rules by then-race director Michael Masi that appeared to blatantly disregard the regulations.
Hauger started the sprint race from reversed grid pole after his 2021 F3 rival Jack Doohan was excluded from qualifying, and made an excellent start from the front to control lap one before the safety car was called out after Amaury Cordeel crashed.
On the restart on lap six, Hauger chose to wait until just a few metres before the restart line before speeding up. Some of the cars at the back of the pack began to concertina up, with Doohan wiping out Logan Sargeant. This required a second safety car intervention, almost instantly after the first ended.
The message “SC Through Pit Lane” was given at 15:50:00, which would be applied under the usual directive that drivers follow the safety car at all times while it is on track unless indicated otherwise, only to then be replaced by “Pit Lane Closed” 22 seconds after, which was an obvious contradiction. The boards indicating that the pitlane was closed were shown, while safety car driver Bernd Maylander was waiting down the pit straight and not in the pitlane.
Prema claims to have asked race control several times for clarification, to which the team was told the command was to drive through the pitlane. Hauger entered the pitlane 61 seconds after the pit entry closed message was brought out, and returned to the circuit in 12th place. Race control issued the penalty for entering a closed pitlane during the lengthy ongoing safety car period as debris was cleared up, and so Hauger dropped well down the order when he served his stop-go immediately after the restart. Importantly, Hauger was the only driver to take to the pitlane during the preceding laps.
The conversation between Hauger and his engineer Pedro Matos was transmitted over team radio during the race, with Hauger and Prema audibly venting their frustrations at the situation.
A 10s stop-go is the standard penalty for driving down a closed pitlane, as Hamilton found out in the 2020 Italian Grand Prix, and is the harshest in-race penalty that can be awarded aside from disqualification.
Hauger ended the race 17th on-the-road, last of the classified runners, but picking up a spot after Van Amersfoort Racing’s Jake Hughes was excluded for a technical irregularity.
“I had a good start from pole. I tried to make a bit of a gap in the first couple of laps and managed to do so quite OK, I wasn’t 100% pushing, but the pace wasn’t looking too bad. The restart from the first safety car wasn’t the best I would say, I had a plan but didn’t work out, but I still managed to stay in front. The safety car came out again quite early on. Then it was just frustrating.”
Speaking of the penalty situation, he said that “we got confirmation from race control that we were supposed to go through the pitlane. We did so and got a penalty for listening. It feels a bit unfair, after losing the chance to fight for my first F2 win.
“Anyway, we have another race tomorrow, it’s not going to be from P1, but we know that we can fight a bit and get some points out of the weekend at least.”
OTHER DRIVERS’ VIEW
The race continued on with Calan Williams leading the restart ahead of Hughes, who had a poor initial start, but the pace of Liam Lawson and Juri Vips on medium compound tyres was too much for those at the front.
Carlin driver Lawson went on to win, ahead of Hitech GP’s Vips and the soft-shod Hughes before the latter’s exclusion. Those three were asked in the post-race press conference about how they saw the safety car situation from their side.
“So, I think most of us got the call initially to drive through the pitlane,” Lawson explained. “But we had boards right before the pitlane entrance that will display arrows if you’re meant to go through the pitlane, or a big X if you’re not supposed to go through the pitlane.
“And it was pretty visible that the X was there, and that was why none of us drove through. I’m not sure if Dennis didn’t see it or not, obviously, it’s disappointing for him.
“But yeah, it was definitely a little bit confusing because we all thought we were going to be driving into the pitlane, but like I said the board was showing the X so we all stayed out.”
Vips, who was a little bit further back during the safety car period, said that Hauger has a “tough lesson” to learn.
“I got the same call as Liam to go through the pitlane, so I was quite surprised, well I saw a car pit but I was quite far back, so I didn’t see who it was, I see a car through the pitlane.
“Well, there was this big X and it’s a really, really tough lesson for Dennis because I think he did a great job and if I’m not wrong, he was leading at that point as well.
“I mean you always follow the safety car, whatever it does. Whatever the signs are out, you always follow the safety car.”
Hughes, meanwhile, did feel some sympathy towards Hauger. “Sorry for Dennis obviously, but that board on the entry to pitlane, that dictates everything,” he said.”
“So, even if you got one message but that said the opposite, you follow the board. I think most of us, if not all of us, know that, but I feel sorry for Dennis.”
WHY DID PREMA APPEAL?
Prema later appealed the race result, asking for it to be voided to the end of lap six at the point of the pitlane mix-up, although it remains unclear on the motive behind this. The penalty, as it was a stop-go served in-race, can not be appealed and last year’s F1 title decider proved that there is next to no chance of having a result overturned in the instance of race control errors. F2’s race director is Rui Marques, who took over from Bob Kettleboro for this year after some off-season confusion where the DTM’s 2021 race director Niels Wittich was initially declared as moving into the role.
this is a personnal statement
I feel very disgusted for my driver today, received 2 opposite message on screens so called the race director that clearly instructed to proceed through pitlane despite closed. Driver followed race director instructions and got penalized for that…
— Guillaume Capietto (@gcapietto) March 26, 2022
The key bit as to why this is so controversial is that Hauger was penalised for following the race director’s instructions, an instruction that clearly was incorrect and contradictory to what was occurring in the race itself.
It is clear that miscommunication occurred, in a race weekend that has been very stressful for security reasons not too far from the circuit, and Hauger and Prema came off the worst of it as a result.
However, the boards clearly showed that the pitlane was closed, and therefore those signals should have been adhered to, which was a huge mistake on Hauger’s part even if he was being given information he would have been told to follow, as bizarre as that sounds. Hauger admitted that he did not question the team after seeing the boards. This small but significant error has not only has immediate ramifications but ones that could be magnified come season-end if he is in a tight title fight.Ultimately, this would have also been avoided had the correct information been given out in the first place, and had the team been informed of the right thing to do in the times it enquired as to what the correct procedure was in this circumstance.
WHY THE APPEAL FELL THROUGH
The FIA stated that while the protest was timely and admissible, “the race director claimed that at the time of the incident which necessitated calling for a safety car, it was not clear whether the track blockage was before or after the pit entry”.
“They initially thought the blockage was on the main straight after pit entry and issued Message A to take the SC and field through the pit lane, in order to avoid the incident area.
“Very shortly thereafter, they saw incident video that showed the position of the incident, which did not necessitate taking the field through the pitlane and, in fact, required that the pitlane be closed due to blockage on the left side of the track prior to pit entry. They then posted Message B. This resulted in the official message board to the teams on timing page three showing Message A for 20s.
“The radio conversation between Prema and the race director (which is not logged or recorded, as it is not a form of communication acknowledged by the regulations) happened somewhere around the time of posting of Message B. The race director acknowledges that at the time of that radio conversation, he told Prema that the cars would be going through pitlane.
“He said, however, that the situation as viewed by race control was evolving by the second and that somewhere in the same time frame, but apparently after he stopped talking to Prema, the pitlane was closed on timing page three and on the on-track marshal panels at turn 27 and on the main straight. In his mind, this closing of the pit entry superseded his conversation with Prema about the cars going through pitlane, as it was an official communication to all teams.”
The stewards’ statement went on to say “for a full minute after Prema felt they had been told to have their cars go through the pitlane, timing page three (available to them) and the pit entry status boards at turn 27 and on the main straight (available to the driver when he arrived on the scene) showed the pit entry was closed, yet they took no action to clarify the situation further with the race director or communicate further with their driver”.
“No regulations were breached by the race director or other race control personnel in their handling of the incident in question, as acknowledged by Prema. In the course of their actions, they properly adjusted their methods of dealing with the incident on track in accordance with the conditions as they knew them and as they evolved.”
With race direction only now starting to have its limelight taken away from it in F1 terms, this is a bit of a faux pas on the FIA’s part as its new systems come into place.
While F2 doesn’t get the same treatment or coverage as F1, that Hauger lost out following such a messy situation appears to be a disastrous look on the FIA, and harks back to recent memories that will be all too familiar for many. Ultimately, communication should have been much better in this situation, and it was entirely avoidable.