Formula 1: Vettel's early start in Japan (2019) Legal perspective and lessons

Formula 1: Vettel’s early start in Japan (2019) Legal perspective and lessons

Maybe you are a Formula 1 enthusiast like us and if this is the case you may have woken up early to watch the Japanese Gran Prix. The 2019 version was an exhilarating one to remember for years to come.

The crash between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc may have been the start of the fight of the a generation of drivers to take over the crown of Lewis Hamilton.

At the start Vettel’s car moved before all red lights were off to stop shortly afterwards. Vettel was criticised for this even though he was not considered to have gained any advantage. If you want to watch what happened click here.

Was the start legal and what legal lessons can be learned in general?

Most legal studies start with checking the applicable rules and this is no exception. FIA 2019 Formula One Sporting Regulations. Section 36.13 ‘Either of the penalties under Articles 38.3c) or d) will be imposed on any driver who is judged to have: a) Moved before the start signal is given, such judgement being made by an FIA approved and supplied transponder fitted to each car…’

So, a driver is punished if the car moves too early. Movement is measured by a transponder. In this case the transponder did not record any movement, though video footage clearly shows movement. For this reason, the decision by the stewards has been widely criticised.

To make a sound decision, the issue of gaining benefit is not relevant really.

Transponders are programmed to have a small margin which are kept secret to prevent the teams from using these margins to gain an advantage. Since the movement was within these margins the start was correct according to the stewards.

Like in Formula 1 there is often a discrepancy between facts and the (legal)  interpretation of these facts. Some facts may seem to be illegal, but this may not be the case for several reasons.

To ensure all parties concerned understand and comply to an agreement, legal margins should be prevented of be kept as small as possible. Any margin may cause discussions.

When drafting a contract, clear definitions are important and should not allow multiple interpretations. The agreement must enable others (judges) to decide what parties have agreed on. The Dutch Haviltex court case is about the intentions of parties. It might be argued that if contracts are drafted correctly intentions may be less relevant, since the contract is clear what parties have agreed on.

The wording of contracts should be unambiguous. “… to the best of our knowledge” is a widely used phrase which in the end may lead to elaborate discussions. Most companies would like to prevent these legal discussions for good reasons.

In such a case we kindly offer you to have an introductory phone call free of charge. Good advice before signing a contract and drafting clear contracts will save you precious time. Time you spend on enjoying Formula One racing.