Sir Lewis Hamilton had a lucky escape at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. The world champion lost the lead of the race from pole position off the line as Max Verstappen got a better start and passed him going into the first corner, with the Mercedes driver sustaining damage to his front wing in the process.
While chasing Verstappen, Hamilton then ran into more trouble as he attempted to pass the back markers, with an attempted overtake on the Williams of George Russell going awry as he veered onto the wet part of the track on dry tyres and slid off into the gravel.
That incident saw the Brit slide back down the standings as he struggled to free his car, and by the time he had extricated himself he was a full lap behind the leader.
Any chance of a podium finish seemed to have evaporated, but Hamilton was given a lifeline after his teammate Valtteri Bottas had a heavy crash with Russell which brought out the red flags and forced all the cars back to the pits.
The situation afforded Hamilton the opportunity to get his front wing replaced and new tyres fitted to the car, as well as allowing him to unlap himself and bounce back into contention in the race. He duly did so, and chased down the leading pack to finish in second.
But why was Hamilton allowed to unlap himself?
According to the FIA’s 2021 sporting regulations paragraph 42.3, the same rules apply during a red flag situation as under the safety car. Two minutes before the race resumes, lapped cars are permitted to exit the pit lane and drive one lap and return to the back of the pit lane in the correct order.
That is why Hamilton was able to get a lap back on the leaders essentially for free. The rules were put in place to ensure that drivers at the back of the pack are not among the leaders when the race restarts, which could cause issues when lapped cars have to respect blue flags as the frontrunners are jostling for position.
The world champion also benefited from the rule that allows teams to make changes to their cars under the red flag. Everyone was able to switch out their tyres in the pit lane, but Hamilton was also able to get his front wing damage repaired without making an extra stop.