The FIA, the governing body of international motorsport, is considering a protest brought before them by the Ferrari team in the wake of the Brazilian Grand Prix.
The on-board footage produced appears to show Sebastian Vettel passing a Toro Rosso under yellow flags on lap four of the race.
If a penalty is applied, the German will be stripped of his world title and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso will be crowned World Champion.
Entering turn one at the start of lap four and recovering from his first lap incident, Vettel catches up with a string of slower cars with Jean Eric Vergne at the rear, although he is unable to overtake into the first corner thanks to a yellow flag, which prohibits overtaking, being deployed from a marshals post on the inside of the circuit. The Red Bull driver passes a further flashing yellow light on the exit of the Senna ‘S’ curves before he passes another marshals post, from which Vettel claims he saw a green flag being waved. Although there is evidence to suggest a green flag had indeed been shown at that point on the previous lap, there is debate over whether it was still present on the following lap.
At this point Vettel pulls out from behind Vergne and passes the Toro Rosso on the run down to turn four.
As he does so it becomes clear the circuit is still under yellow flag conditions as a flashing yellow light was visible as he overtook Vergne. Additionally, the yellow flag warning was present on Vettel’s dashboard.
Should Vettel be able to prove he was misled by a green flag on the exit of the pitlane, he should be able to plead sufficient ambiguity and confusion to keep his title.
If he is found to be guilty of an offence he will most probably receive a time penalty similar to that incurred by other drivers, namely a 20-second post-race time penalty. This would drop him out of the vital 6th place he took to claim the title and enable Alonso to overhaul him in the championship points haul – with the season over Alonso would be World Champion.
The FIA currently refuse to comment on the situation until firm action has been taken or dismissed as unnecessary.