Formula 1: Ferrari consider Sebastian Vettel protest over illegal overtaking

Ferrari said they want to establish whether there is enough evidence to lodge a protest that could overturn the result of the 2012 Formula 1 world championship. The team are "evaluating footage" that appears to show Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel making an illegal overtaking move in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso lost the title by three points to his German rival but now Vettel could lose four points if he is deemed to have broken the rules. Formula 1's governing body, the FIA, has so far refused to confirm that it is investigating the incident. Vettel's Red Bull team have not commented on the incident.

Footage from Vettel's on-board camera appears to show him passing Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne in a yellow 'caution' zone on lap four of Sunday's race. If that is the case and if any protest is made, it could result in a retrospective 20-second penalty for the German. That would drop the German from sixth to eighth which would lead to a title win for Alonso by a single point.

However, the FIA do not need Ferrari to act to investigate further as its own rules appear to oblige it to do so. Article 179b of the international sporting code says: "If, in events forming part of an FIA championship, a new element is discovered, whether or not the stewards of the meeting have already given a ruling, these stewards of the meeting or, failing this, those designated by the FIA must meet… summoning the party or parties concerned to hear any relevant explanations and to judge in the light of the facts and elements brought before them. The period during which an appeal in review may be brought expires on 30 November of the year during which the decision that is liable to review has been handed down, if that decision is likely to have an effect on the result of a championship."

It appears that FIA have until Friday to resolve the situation one way or another. Overtaking is strictly forbidden in a yellow zone, indicated by yellow flags and flashing trackside yellow lights. If a driver is caught overtaking in a yellow-flag zone, the punishment is either to drive through the pits at restricted speed if the race is still under way, or 20 seconds added to a driver's race time if the incident takes place close to the end of the race or is investigated after the race.

The incriminating footage shows Vettel passing two flashing yellow lights then overtaking Vergne down the straight, completing the move before reaching a flashing green light, indicating the end of the yellow zone. Rules dictate that the 'yellow' zone ends only when the driver passes the first 'green' indicator. It is possible however that Vettel thought he was free to overtake Vergne because he saw a marshal waving a green flag at the exit of the pit lane, that was before he made his manoeuvre.
A green flag is waved by a marshal at that post as Vettel passes the Marussia of Charles Pic on lap three, but it is not clear whether it was still being waved on lap four.

So the likelihood of any protest being lodged or of any action being taken depends on whether Ferrari or the FIA can establish whether there was a green flag waving at that marshals' post at that time. If there was, the case will be closed. If there was not a green flag, then the case will probably go before the FIA Court of Appeal.

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