Formula 1 drivers were warned specifically about increased scrutiny on anyone gaining an advantage by leaving the track, before Sebastian Vettel's controversial move on Jenson Button at the German Grand Prix.
Vettel grabbed second place from Button on the penultimate lap at Hockenheim after using the run-off area at the exit of the hairpin to drive past his McLaren rival. That incident was investigated by the race stewards, who deemed that Vettel was in breach of the rules for not using the track "at all times," and he was given a 20-second time penalty in lieu of a drive-through for his actions.
The decision, which dropped Vettel to fifth in the race results, caused some controversy because in other situations – like Lewis Hamilton overtaking Nico Rosberg off track in Bahrain, a move the officials ruled was ultimately completed on track under braking – drivers have escaped punishment. But it is understood that the stewards were reacting to the latest clarification of the rules that was issued at the British GP.
Prior to the race at Silverstone, F1 race director Charlie Whiting sent a note to all teams and race stewards making it clear that while the regulations state no driver can gain an advantage by leaving the track, race stewards would be encouraged to use their discretion in determining the extent of any benefit.
Whiting stated: "Any driver leaving the track, (i.e. no part of his car remains in contact with the track in accordance with the current regulations), may rejoin the track but without gaining an advantage. While the relevant regulation stated that a driver may gain no advantage at all by leaving the track, we feel the stewards should be encouraged to use their discretion in cases where it is not entirely clear whether or not a driver has gained any direct or immediate advantage."
The clarification over drivers not gaining any advantage when they run off the track came in the same document where Whiting issued new guidelines about defensive driving, stating that drivers could use the full width of the track to hold back a rival providing that no part of their front wing was alongside the rear wheel of their car.