The role of the stewards

Ed Gorman — The Times journalist and a blogger normally known for his enthusiastic support for Lewis Hamilton (which got him into hot water from many Spanish fans in the past) — has been unusually erring towards taking the view of the stewards following the Belgian Grand Prix. He has written a couple of posts saying that he has found out a few things about the stewards’ decision. It makes for interesting reading and there are a few points I want to pick up on.

Here is the first post.

I have winkled out a few tiny extra details about the hearing. One thing I can tell you is this. The way the stewards approached it – quite correctly in my view – was to put out of their minds who the cars were being driven by and what stage, of which race, they were looking at. In other words they closed their minds to the sporting politics of the situation and focussed intently on the evidence presented to them. As one source put it: “They looked at it as if it was a GP2 incident, not Kimi vs Lewis at the climax of the Belgian Grand Prix.” By this means, as he pointed out, they came, in their view, “to a fair sporting conclusion even if that was also a PR disaster for Formula One.”

It should go without saying that this is what the stewards ought to be doing anyway. The fact that it is news that “they closed their minds to the sporting politics of the situation” implies that in previous decisions the stewards have not. Is it normal for the stewards to take into account politics when making a decision? That is pretty shocking stuff if this is the case.

Incidentally, given the run of odd penalties that GP2 has also seen in the past couple of meetings, I suppose that the stewards would come up with a controversial result by approaching it “as if it was a GP2 incident”.

Another point here is that many of you seem outraged that a race result had been changed, that the sanctity of the sport had been contaminated by the cold legalise of bureaucrats in a courtroom afterwards. But again what is the alternative? If a sport has rules, they must be upheld. People cannot be adjudged to have won just because a race has finished – that would be a recipe for anarchy.

Here I do sympathise with the stewards. A lot of people were outrage by the fact that the race result was changed. But I learnt very early on in my F1-viewing days that you can never be fully sure of a race result until later on in the evening (and sometimes even after that). Sometimes, that is just the way F1 is.

However, there is no doubt that it leaves a sour taste in the mouth to see a driver cross the finish line then spray the champagne from the top step of the podium, only for that victory to be taken away from a smoke-filled room behind the scenes. I certainly took it pretty badly, and judging by the Belgian GP video on Formula1.com, so did Bernie’s people! Sometimes, however, this is what has to happen.

Is there a way the process can be tightened up though? In my mind, there are plenty of ways in which the process could be improved. For one thing, if the stewards think that something dodgy happened on the track, they should let it be known immediately that they plan to investigate it.

I don’t mind about the stewards taking a long time to make a decision. I would rather have the correct decision made slowly than the wrong decision made quickly. What is a problem, though, is the perception that the stewards have made the wrong decision slowly. Nevertheless, the stewards have access to a lot more data than we do and I don’t blame them for wanting to plough through it.

However, I would like viewers to be told more clearly and quickly when a driver is under investigation. If the stewards thought the Hamilton–Räikkönen incident was marginal, they should have notified the relevant people as soon as they came to that conclusion, which you would think was not long after the incident actually happened.

If the stewards are umming and aahing about whether or not they should investigate, I think that is still an investigation! That it can take so long for the viewers to be informed of an investigation is not on. A lot of the problem I had with the situation was that it wasn’t even announced that there was an investigation until after the podium ceremony. I can understand that for a technical infringement — but for a sporting infringement?

As for why the stewards only decided to investigate after the race had finished, that is a whole other story. And this, for me, is the most damning part of it all. Here is what Ed Gorman said in his second post:

The McLaren press release of yesterday which many of you have clearly read, makes much of the fact that, according to Martin Whitmarsh, the pitwall team contacted the race director – Charlie Whiting – and were told twice, before the race ended, that Lewis’s conduct in respect of Kimi was “okay”.

This appears to lend great weight to McLaren’s case. However, I understand there is no reference to the race director in the regulations on this point and it seems likely that, whether Whiting told McLaren everything was “okay” once or twice or 10 times, this may have no bearing on the outcome of this case.

What is more, I have established that, despite having appeared to convey to McLaren that Lewis had done nothing wrong, Whiting himself then played a key role in instigating the formal investigation of the incident by the stewards.

After every race it is normal procedure, apparently, for the stewards to enquire of the race director if there is anything that should be looked at. Whiting is thought to have said to them that, although he had been in touch with McLaren about the exchange between Lewis and Kimi on lap 42, the stewards may still want to have a look at it themselves.

If this is true, then the accusations of conspiracy begin to look a whole lot more convincing. Ed Gorman plays down the fact that Charlie Whiting said that Lewis Hamilton’s actions were “okay”. But I don’t think it is unreasonable for McLaren to expect that Whiting, having given it the “okay”, would not include the incident in his report to the stewards. If Whiting thought it was okay, and the stewards themselves didn’t choose to investigate it while the race was still going on, why on earth would Whiting then bring it up to the stewards after the race was finished?

Well, I can think of one good reason why he might do that — to screw McLaren over. I’m not saying that’s what his plan was. But if the FIA really want to put a halt to the “Ferrari International Assistance” perception, they are not exactly helping themselves by behaving in this sort of way.

8 comments

  1. Very amusing Wikipedia article – I think DeMontezemelo has seen it though – the current version has been taken down 🙂

  2. People cannot be adjudged to have won just because a race has finished – that would be a recipe for anarchy.

    Football has rules; they’re rigourously enforced; but the referee’s decision during the match (however wrong it might happen to be) is final in terms of determining the match result. I don’t see why the same couldn’t be applied to F1?

  3. Because you could get blatant rule breaches towards the end of the race change the results entirely without any action from the stewards. Given that it can take the stewards 30 laps to come to a decision sometimes, that’s an awful lot of the race which becomes a free-for-all. And that’s before you start on technical regulation breaches…

  4. Personally, and this may be wrong, regarding the Whiting situation – I think that at the end of the race when he submitted his report to the stewards (or spoke to them or whatever it is that happens) he probably mentioned this incident simply because McLaren in turn asked him about it.

    In my mind, if a team feels something may be questionable then that’s something the stewards should be made aware of – no doubt Whiting also informed them that he thought the move turned out okay at the time.

    Then again, he would only have had a look at it in realtime without all the team data etc which was available to the stewards later on.

    At the end of the day without any transparency at all in this whole process it’s impossible to say for sure what did or didn’t happen.

    Hopefully with the appeal we may at least get transcripts – but I won’t hold my breath!

  5. Given that it can take the stewards 30 laps to come to a decision sometimes

    Surely that’s the point – instead, they should follow footy referees’ example, and make a decision immediately based on the best evidence.

    If it’s wrong, then *whatever* – at least everyone understands the lie of the land…

  6. Totally agree with the point re: starting any potential investigation IMMEDIATELY, decisions can come later, but it’s hard to see any sporting reason why, if by the end of the race the stewards have no investigation under way, they should suddenly deem on necessary.

    Taking direction post facto from the race director in this matter begs the questions: what is their qualification? what is their training?

    In this regard the FIA’s reaction has been shockingly mismanaged. No surprise to me that in fact Mosley’s reaction to the scandal wa simply patroninising, accusing those who percieve bias of being “stupid”.

    In hos position (as anyone with proper commercial management experience would know) he should be ensuring that his organisations decision making processes are seen to be crystal clear, and that he is in a position to emphasise the expertise, training and experience of his stewards.

    He doesn’t of of course, because the idea that this might be important is not taken seriously. F! teams are highly professional outfits, it is my submission that the FIA is not. It is in fact little more than a network of “influential”and connected people with little practical relevant experience.

    FI teams and management should immediately pressure the FIA for greater transparency in the training, expertise, selection and decisions of stewards as a matter of utmost urgency, if the FIA does not get it’s house in order and become transparent and accountable, no new agreements (concorde or otherwise) should be signed

    The credibility of the sport demands it