While drivers had been told that anyone abusing the limits in qualifying would have their lap times deleted, for the race there was no such provision – so drivers were free to run wide there.
However, drivers had been reminded about provisions in the sporting regulations that states if they leave the track they can only rejoin ‘without gaining any lasting advantage’.
But the situation got muddied by the fact that race winner Lewis Hamilton regularly abused the track limits at Turn 4 throughout the race, prior to eventually being given a warning.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
Then later Max Verstappen was ordered by race control to give up the race lead to Hamilton, after he himself had run wide at Turn 4 as he completed his pass.
While Horner had no qualms over Verstappen having been judged to gain an unfair advantage for running wide, he did not understand why Hamilton consistently got away with abusing the limits in the race and gaining lap time.
“It was frustrating,” said Horner. “We could see as soon as Mercedes started to push they just used that part of the track and we questioned with Race Control if that’s the case, can we do it?
“When you’re in a nip and tuck battle, there’s a two tenths advantage using that part of the circuit, so they did it lap after lap. The race director then asked them to respect the limits, otherwise they would get a black and white flag.
“Obviously Max then ran wide on the pass there. But it had been made clear before the race that if somebody got an advantage by going out there, they’d have to give it back. So he did that immediately the team instructed him to do.
“I think with these track limits, they are always going to be contentious. But we do just need to have a consistent situation. You can’t say it’s okay to use it in a race but you can’t overtake out there. They should be black or white. They shouldn’t be shades of grey.”
F1 race director Michael Masi has disputed the fact that there was any uncertainty over the Turn 4 situation though – as he said it was clear to drivers that the FIA would only intervene if someone was gaining a clear advantage from it.
“With regard to the tolerance given to people running outside of the track limits during the race, it was mentioned very clearly in the drivers’ meeting and in the notes that it would not be monitored with regards to setting the lap time, so to speak,” he said.
“However, it will always be monitored in accordance with the sporting regulations being that a lasting advantage overall must not be gained.”
Pushed on whether he felt things changed during the race because of the warning given late on to Hamilton, Masi said: “Nothing changed during the race. Nothing changed at all.
“We had two people that were looking in that area, at every car, every lap, and pretty much every car bar one was doing the right thing within what we expected in a general sequence.
“There was the occasional car that had a bit of a moment that went out there or whatever it was, but it wasn’t a constant thing.”