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Verstappen sets early pace in first practice at Australian GP

Max Verstappen Max Verstappen - The Canadian Press

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Red Bull principal Christian Horner has criticized the stricter interpretation of a rule that bans Formula One team employees from climbing pit wall for victory celebrations.

Horner said on Friday at the Australian Grand Prix that F1 will lose out by stopping what he described as “iconic” celebrations after ruling body FIA issued a new safety memo before the Australian race, the third in this year's series

F1 race director Niels Wittich issued instructions stating “it is forbidden to climb on a pit wall debris fence at any time.”

Stating team personnel are only allowed in pit lane just before or after they are required to work on a car, the safety edict said employees must exit as soon as the work is complete.

“Any action by a team breaching this ban will be reported to the stewards,” the statement reads.

After Red Bull’s Max Verstappen recorded the fastest lap time in the opening practice session around the Albert Park circuit, Horner appeared bemused by the clampdown.

“I’m surprised it was an issue, to be honest with you, but I think anything that relates to safety, obviously, has to be taken very, very seriously,” he said. “But it’s a fairly iconic moment when you see a Grand Prix car finishing a Grand Prix and its team celebrating on a fence, as long as it’s done in a manner that is safe. I, personally, have never seen an issue with it. It’s always been a part of Grand Prix racing."

McLaren chief executive Zak Brown said he was not sure what prompted the clampdown, with teams facing the prospect of being penalized for any breaches.

“I’m not exactly sure what sparked the necessity to change it,” he said. “I’m not aware of an incident. That being said, safety is critically important to all of us and if they feel it’s potentially not safe, and those are the rules, then we’ll stick to it.”

Horner, meanwhile, is happy for Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez to duel on the track but said they must remember that the team comes first. The rivalry between the teammates has been the subject of significant discussion this season, with the pair splitting the opening two races of the year in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Verstappen leads the drivers’ championship by one point after gaining a bonus point for setting the fastest lap at Jeddah two weeks ago.

Perez has made it clear he wants to challenge for the championship and Horner said it is fine for the teammates to continue pushing each other.

“(Sergio’s) confidence is sky high. And that’s exactly what we want. We want two drivers that are going to be pushing and challenging each other,” he said. “They are competitive animals and they are both racing drivers at the end of the day. But they know the rules of engagement, that it is team first, particularly at this stage of the year."

Meanwhile, organizing body FIA says it has completed a review into the bizarre circumstances which saw Alonso demoted to fourth position in Jeddah for a breach on the starting grid, only to reverse the decision soon after on appeal.

FIA clarified the wording of a rule related to “working on the car” and how it will be regulated and also widened the starting grid boxes for the Australian Grand Prix.


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