So another race, another clutch of dodgy stewards’ decisions. During the ITV broadcast today, Martin Brundle got it bang on: we are now watching a nanny state F1 where we are constantly paranoid about penalties. And that was even before the most ridiculous penalty of the lot — to Sébastien Bourdais — was doled out.
I’ll tackle these incidents in the order they happened on the track. The first was the incident that Lewis Hamilton got a drive-through penalty for. The Brit was judged to have forced cars off the racetrack.
Clive reckons that Hamilton is totally in the clear here. I’m afraid I have to disagree and I think Clive is being a bit disingenuous because he has chosen his screen-caps selectively.
If you watch the video you can clearly see that Kimi Räikkönen spends a lot of time going straight trying to avoid Hamilton when undoubtedly he would otherwise be turning into the corner. Indeed, at one point Räikkönen even moves slightly to his left, away from the apex of the corner, to avoid the out-of-control Hamilton. Arguably this set up a chain of events throughout the first corner as everyone tried to avoid each other.
Hamilton is right to point out, however, that he was not the only person to brake late. While he was by far the worst of the lot, Kovalainen was also too late on the brakes and arguably the Ferraris and a few other cars were as well.
And here is the thing. This is normal first corner stuff. We see this sort of thing several times a season. In fact, it is a surprise whenever all the cars make it cleanly through the first corner. While Hamilton unquestionably compromised the Ferraris and a few other cars, this is nothing we don’t see on a regular basis. For me, this is a complete racing incident; simply an occupational hazard of being in the first corner of a race.
It is not as though Hamilton gained any advantage from the whole scenario. If memory serves, when the whole thing shook out he ended up in 6th place. Hamilton had a shockingly poor start and he panicked. He paid the price, and that was penalty enough in my view.
What is interesting to me is that there is a far more obvious instance of someone barging another driver off the track in today’s race, when Robert Kubica was defending aggressively against Räikkönen. Now I thought that was good racing and I would not have liked Kubica to have got a penalty for that, but I think Kubica had a clearer intention to push someone off the circuit than Hamilton did.
Hamilton ended up nestled behind Massa who seemed to be struggling to keep the McLaren driver at bay. On lap 2 Massa overcooked it and left the door wide open for Hamilton who duly took advantage. However, the recovering Massa skipped over the chicane and tapped straight into Hamilton. The Brit was sent into a spin and had to rejoin at the back of the field while Massa went off into the distance.
This is a more difficult incident to judge because clearly Hamilton was disadvantaged from what was arguably an avoidable accident while Massa gained by cutting across the chicane. I don’t think Hamilton was completely blameless however. Even though Massa was out of shape coming into the entry to the chicane, Hamilton must have known that Massa would still be right there on the exit.
As such, Hamilton could have left more room for Massa. You can well say that Hamilton didn’t need to because he was ahead and Massa skipped the chicane. But for me, the pair were clearly racing. I think there must always be some leeway for a driver to come off the circuit if he finds himself in a pickle coming up the a chicane. I defended Hamilton for doing this in Belgium, so I will accept Massa’s right to cut the chicane as he did.
So Hamilton could have left more space for Massa, while Massa could have backed off a bit. Both could have avoided the accident, but neither chose to take the evasive action. For me, this is a 50–50 incident, the definitive racing incident.
However, given that it was 50–50 and Hamilton came out worse, I can see why the stewards may have wanted to penalise Massa. If I were a steward I may have felt that I needed to penalise Massa. But if I penalised Massa, I would probably have to penalise Hamilton for the first corner incident to balance it all out. I fear that this is what the stewards did.
What they should have done, though, is say, “racing is racing, let’s just carry on.” Seemingly, racing is no longer allowed in Formula 1.
As if we needed any more proof that there is something seriously wrong with the processes in Formula 1, then came the penalty for Bourdais. Now, I went to bed after the race had finished to catch a few more hours of sleep. When I woke up, the first thing I did was check BBCi to see if the stewards had penalised anyone. I had a bad feeling in my waters about it. It’s come to something when you can no longer trust the stewards to leave a reasonable race result the way it is.
When I saw that Bourdais had been penalised, I was disappointed, but I can’t say I was surprised. In fact, I kind of expected it. That shows just how bad the situation has become.
For my money, there is absolutely no way that you can say that Sébastien Bourdais was in the wrong in any way, shape or form whatsoever. He had come out of the pits minding his own business. Felipe Massa was the one who turned straight into him as if there was no-one there. Massa was the one who moved in the direction of Bourdais, who was ahead and racing for position.
From the one and only television angle we have seen so far, it looks as though Bourdais was on the kerb and he had nowhere else to go. Bourdais himself says, “I don’t know what I was supposed to do basically. I could have unrolled the red carpet and given him the corner. That is the only thing I could have done.” From the evidence we have seen so far, I have to agree with him.
Like the Hamilton first corner incident, this is something we see time and time again throughout the season, literally on a race-by-race basis. This is something that we see in almost every race, and it has become part of the sport to see who comes out in front when one person is exiting the pits and the other was on the racetrack.
The stewards’ explanation for penalising Bourdais is apparently that he “did not back off enough”. Why should Bourdais have backed off? He was racing for position. Presumably he was supposed to defer to the precious Ferrari. If ever you wanted clear evidence of a “red car rule” at play in F1, this is it.
For me, the Japanese Grand Prix is yet further proof that Formula 1 has become far too bogged down in penalties for the sport to remain credible. This is the “choose your own result” culture, where stewards and fans alike have begun nitpicking every little minor misdemeanour on the track in an attempt to justify their own favoured race result. Formula 1 is no longer a competition of racing. It is a competition of bureaucracy.
From what I have been reading on respected website Grandprix.com, the job of FIA steward has become a jolly for Max’s mates under Mosley’s leadership. It seems to be brimful of Mosley’s allies from the WMSC and those who voted for him in the General Assembly. The steward’s job is seen as a “perk”. There have even been instances where there have been stewards who have never even watched a grand prix motor race! And boy, can you tell.
The story of the latter half of this season has been bungled steward’s decision after bungled steward’s decision. This ranges from the Bus Stop controversy to the Rosberg incident in Singapore to today’s unmitigated mess. It is easy to construct conspiracy theories, but I think this is as much down to incompetence as anything else. But what else can you expect when the FIA has a thoroughly poisonous person as its President, filling the steward’s job with his chums no matter what their level of expertise is?
This nanny state F1 needs to be stopped. The powers that be are currently obsessing themselves with increasingly bizarre ideas such as the “Curse” / KERS system, standard engines and a spec series. Well if you ask me the cars aren’t the problem because the on-track action this year has been top-notch in my view.
The real problem with F1 is that we can no longer have confidence in a race result until several hours after the chequered flag. Any number of increasingly unpredictable penalties can be meted out for flimsy reasons. Max Mosley has filled the steward’s room with a bunch of bureaucrats who don’t like racing but love pretendy court cases. Mosley likes gets a thrill out of punishing people in the bedroom, and his cronies love to dish out the punishments at a grand prix. I imagine these people just get a massive kick out of going around the place thinking, “I changed that race result.” Well I am sick of it.
There needs to be a culture in F1 where we can sit back and let the drivers get on with it. Racing is racing. I am not saying get rid of all penalties. But the stewards need to seriously look and think to themselves, does this really merit a drive-through? Too often nowadays drivers are penalised for petty reasons, and the amount of penalties given out goes up and up all the time.
I was listening to the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast earlier today and they made a brilliant point. No-one came away from Dijon in 1979 saying that anyone should have been penalised. People just sat back and enjoyed the excellent racing. Today pathetic people would say, “oh he went off the race track”, “he caused an avoidable banging of the wheels”, “oh he got barged off”.
It does amaze me that the powers that be claim to be doing everything they can to encourage good racing and overtaking. But when any good racing ever does happen, a driver gets penalised for it! Okay, maybe drivers take risks every so often. But that is the point of overtaking! An overtaking move is supposed to be a risky manoeuvre! It wouldn’t be special and important otherwise. If drivers are penalised for taking risks, we might as well pack up, go home and give up on motor racing completely.
Punishments have a place in F1. But there should be much more of an arms-length approach. Drivers should be penalised only for egregious attempts to gain an advantage and for instances where there is a clear intention to pull off a dangerous manoeuvre. If we are talking about Schumacher in Jerez 1997 or Rascassegate, then throw the book at them. But Hamilton today? An honest mistake that was punished enough by natural events on the racetrack.
Unfortunately, Formula 1 has become a judged event, as open to interpretation and abuse as figure skating. It ought to be a sport where the winner is determined by what goes on on the racetrack, not in the stewards’ room. Sadly, those days are long gone and my patience with Formula 1 is wearing thinner by the race.
There could hardly be a greater contrast to last year’s race at Fuji. We had a stonking last-lap battle between Kubica and Massa where they were barging each other, banging wheels, cutting chicanes and using run-off areas all over the shop. And that was great fun racing and it was rightly left alone by the stewards. Today, a Formula 1 driver will get a drive-through penalty for as much as giving his rival an evil stare.