Welcome to Formula None, where racing is illegal

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.


  1. This is quite frustrating.

    I thought the GPDA would try to do something about these things. Or the new teams association. I can see how the GPDA might not do much to defend Hamilton – because he’s not part of the GPDA – but really, WTF was Bourdais meant to do?

    I’d like to hear Massa explain that incident. That and what he thought he was doing driving straight into Hamilton. “I do this all the time on my Playstation and I never get penalised, I don’t understand.”

    This is in part why I don’t like video referees. Let the referee on the field make a split-second bad decision, and leave it at that. No more discussion.

    But having a bunch of “Plant of the Apes”-type overlords get in a room to watch all this footage again and again and still come up with that decision against Bourdais is just plain wrong.

    Maybe you’re right and the stewards don’t watch enough F1. The only correct decision that could have been made yesterday – two drive-throughs for the frustrated little man in red. They can be applied in a number of ways: one (or two!) for the frustrated move on Hamilton (basically deciding to drive straight into an opponent, knowing nothing good will come of it), one for doing that while taking a shortcut and missing the curb, one for driving into and hitting Bourdais.

  2. I may be repeating myself as I left similar comments under similar articles elsewhere. But I do believe that only way out of this is to make the rules and regualtions and guidelines clearer and leave less to the opinions of stewards. There are simply too many grey areas that leave too much room for stewards’ discretion (and silly rulings)

    as for the Fuji ’08 race – there should have been no penalties. And I completely agree with you that Massa and Hamilton were penalized only because Hamilton and Massa were penalized … Package deal …

  3. great post vee!
    although i see the hamilton/massa penalties fair…
    i think the bourdais penalty is plain ridiculous!
    the term “avoidable accident” is becoming too damn gray!
    well they could avoid accidents if they don’t f***ing race!

  4. Sorry, but Hamilton actually gained advantage, only that he was eager to throw it out.

    He was third after the first corner, but tried to overtake Alonso as in Interlagos-2007 and went out (some people never change). Look at the second half of
    this video

    Something I find interesting, is that you think that nobody should have been penalized… that means that Massa was the one who was disadvantaged by stewards decissions!!! So the outrage of that f1 british sites should go in the other direction, shouldn’t it?

  5. I would love to see the same stewards preside over a BTCC race.

    PS: Your RSS feed is broken.

  6. You touched on my main gripe. Going to bed (late) after the race and not being confident on the result. Why bother staying up! Then you wait weeks for the apeal. Imagine an olympic event like this. Entertaining only for lawers and pencil pushers.

  7. And again the same reactions as with Spa.
    F1 stewards have been mad for ages, but it is only this season that some people have noticed. I am not talking about you, because I think you are pretty impartial, but it’s funny to read the opinions of the very same people that enjoyed Alonso’s penalty last year in Hungary, or in Monza 2006.
    F1 needs a change, but not because of this year decisions.
    As for Hamilton, he has lost the championship. He alone. I can’t help to see this outrage as a distraction of the failure of HAM seizing the easiest championship in ages. He has made incredible mistakes, and this first corner is another example. He should have let Raikkonen pass, and he would have been one step nearer to the final victory. But he can’t, because he is a spoiled brat. His last overtake of the race (Alonso), even blocking tires was like an epitaph of his season.
    I am sorry for the sincere people like you, but it’s what I think when I read 90% of the British media.

  8. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Samuel — I’m not sure how you conclude that Massa was the one who was disadvantaged by the penalties. It may be so that Massa would have had a good result, more so than Hamilton, without his penalty. But the Bourdais penalty was a plain straightforward gift of one world championship point to Massa, no racing required.

    Neil — What’s up with my RSS feed? It’s working fine for me.

    Ponzonha — You’re absolutely right that strange stewards’ decisions are nothing new. My worry is that these strange decisions happened only once in a blue moon. You are absolutely right about Alonso in Monza, and indeed in Hungary.

    This year, however, it is beginning to happen on a race-by-race basis. Whether we are talking about the stewards getting it all wrong with Alonso and Massa in Valencia; Heidfeld and Barrichello in Singapore, before the Nico Rosberg bungle; Hamilton in Belgium; and now the travesty of Fuji — these decisions are becoming worryingly frequent and are beginning to seriously spoil my enjoyment of the sport as a whole.

    I think in Britain primarily the outrage is about the Bourdais penalty. When I saw the ‘package deal’ penalties of Massa and Hamilton being given out, I didn’t particularly like it but I tolerated it. Our commentators on Radio 5 Live said straight away after the start that the stewards might want to look at what Hamilton did, and so it proved to be the case. And Martin Brundle on ITV began the post-race analysis by asking, “Did Lewis Hamilton leave his brain on the grid today?” I think most people here are under no illusion that Hamilton completely fouled it up yesterday (I’ll have a post about the race itself coming up later). They are not particularly outraged about his penalty, though many think that Massa’s was more deserved. The Bourdais one, though.. that’s what’s got everyone stumped I think, and that’s certainly the one that has got right under my skin.


  9. If we are arguing the frequency and not the nature of the penalties, then I agree. This year they seem to be loving the post-race business…
    It is time for the teams and the pilots to put some pressure there.
    [RSS is fine for me BTW]

  10. Excellent article, Doctor, but I cannot let you get away with the suggestion that I chose my screenshots selectively. Quite frankly, when I do one of those shot-by-shot things, I don’t have time to be too selective! I merely pick shots a few split seconds apart in the hope that it will cut down on arguments as to who did what at what moment.

    You say that “Räikkönen spends a lot of time going straight trying to avoid Hamilton when undoubtedly he would otherwise be turning into the corner” – and that is the result of allowing another driver to get inside you. It’s called racing and Kimi’s mistake was in letting Hamilton get there at all. Then you say that “Räikkönen even moves slightly to his left, away from the apex of the corner, to avoid the out-of-control Hamilton”. In fact and as the video shows quite clearly, Raikkonen moves left while Hamilton is still tucked in behind him. That Lewis must be quite something if he can affect a driver’s actions from behind him. 😉

    What happens next is quite interesting. Raikkonen starts moving left, Hamilton sees the opportunity and pops out from the Ferrari’s slipstream (let’s ignore the matter of Kovalainen as it’s a different argument and the stewards apparently couldn’t see Heikki anyway). Very quickly he is alongside Kimi and (this is the bit I had to run through over and over again because I could hardly believe my eyes) Raikkonen moves back right until they bump wheels. I know, sounds like a Hamilton groupie excuse, but watch it again – there is no question that it was Kimi that caused the contact between the two.

    Anyway, that’s racing and no big deal until the stewards start handing out penalties – selectively! I do also quibble with the idea that Hamilton’s move set up a chain reaction and endangered everyone in the race. Once it was clear that Hamilton’s wheels were locked up and he was not going to make the corner, all Raikkonen had to do was wait for him to plough straight on and then turn in – standard racing procedure and executed by Hamilton on Massa a couple of times last year. But that is the point at which Kovalainen comes into play, preventing Kimi from turning in.

    I do not argue with the point that Hamilton dropped a big one by going for the gap – with hindsight it’s obvious that he would have done better to have sat behind Kimi through the corner. But to penalize him for such a typical first corner mistake after ignoring similar incidents for decades looks far too much like victimization by the stewards.

  11. A few days ago you wrote on the maturity of LH; and, I am afraid, the lack of it has already (again) showed up. I stated I believed he has not learned from experience, and here we go again. Apparently, Ron Dennis did not tell LH whom he was racing!

    To some extent I feel sorry for him, if he loses two championships in a row this way, it is going to be really tough for LH to recover.

    At this time it is quite obvious FA should stay at Renault, don’t you think?

  12. I am absolutely stonkered by the Bourdais penalty. Does Ferrari own the racetrack or something? Cos Massa is sure behaving like he does lately. Any other car should just get out of his way or suffer the consequences !

    Is it too late to hope that Kubica brings himself into contention as possible WDC for this year? Because the way Lewis is having brain fades lately and the points ‘given’ to Massa by Ferrari International Assistance, its looking like Massa for 2008 WDC – a fate I don’t even wish to contemplate.

    Oh and BTW Go Alonso ! What an absolute storming drive by Fernando, which put paid to the ‘oh he only won in SG because of the safety car’ chorus.
    His win(s) are the more special because they have not been from pole, not in the best car on the grid, and have been anything but easy cruises to the chequered flag. I knew he had it in him !

    *very happy Alonso fan* 😀

  13. As amended

    Without “bringing the sport into disrepute” (which one presumes would have a Mosley vendetta, large fines and infinite bias as its result), no one dares to speak out from within the F1 circus; you can see Ron Dennis chewing his lip right off after every penalty, misrepresented racing incident, and justification of Ferrari dominance (let’s be fair; the Ferrari is by far the better vehicle).
    If there is arrogance in F1 it is from Ferrari and Massa who seems to know that Mosley, sorry, God, is on his side. So move over, Force India, the red car wants to leave the pits; move over Toro-Rosso; don’t you know you can’t leave the pits when a Ferrari is racing you?

    F1, sadly, is a joke in 2008.

  14. I have just read on the itv-f1 website that Alan Donnelly says that the stewards are not biased; he sites the same example to support his case as was mentioned in the Max Mosley interview – must’ve come from Max himself!

    “You just need one example to debunk that theory: At Monaco the stewards noticed that on [Kimi] Raikkonen’s F2008 the wheels had not been fitted before the three-minute mark as required by the regulations.
    “So the stewards penalised Kimi with a drive-through at a track where you can’t overtake.”

    I can hardly believe it! follow the link to this previous post…


    Keep up the good work Alan…