Are the race stewards now too lenient?

I am a bit late to the party here, but I want to cover this issue — and a couple of others — briefly now. I am afraid once again real life has conspired against me, and if I don’t push these out quickly before I know it the Spanish Grand Prix will have been and gone.

After all, three races have been since I last wrote about F1. Unbelievable, I know. And I have promised loyal readers and commenters from the old vee8 days, EGC and Can, that I will write about recent events, so I really should. Thanks, by the way, for your continued loyalty!

It has been widely noted that the stewards appear to be more lenient this season. This seems to be an initiative of Jean Todt’s, and many are putting it down to the presence of former drivers in the stewards’ room — an innovation for this season.

I must say that I feel that this new approach is much preferable to the old regime, where often normal racing incidents would bizarrely be punished. The worst points came in 2008, when I feared that Formula 1 was becoming Formula None, where racing is illegal.

However, there is a balance to be struck. There are two incidents in particular that perhaps deserved punishment, both involving Lewis Hamilton.

The first was his weaving down the straight at Malaysia, trying to break Vitaly Petrov’s tow. First of all, full marks must be given to Petrov for managing to get Hamilton rattled enough for him to do this. When I watched it at first I thought it was extraordinary, but also exciting to watch.

For me, this is the sort of racing that is okay. In way, it’s how racing should be — right on the edge, a bit risky, pushing the envelope. Weaving along the straight is okay in my view… Then again, I’m not a driver. 🙂

It would be a very different matter to weave in the braking zone. But Hamilton stuck to his line once he started braking, making it tough but clean racing in my book.

I think it was right for Hamilton to be given a warning. It should not have gone un-noted, but any larger punishment than that would have been too harsh.

What should have been punished, however, was Hamilton’s antics down the pitlane in China. I am thinking in particular about his decision to race Sebastian Vettel towards the pitlane exit.

Too much focus was placed on the timing of McLaren’s lollipop man. I think what the lollipop man did is irrelevant in this instance. I understand that Hamilton is a racer, but once both drivers had reached the speed limit, Vettel was clearly ahead. In this case, Hamilton should have deferred, and lined up behind him in the ‘racing’ lane of the pitlane. After all, Vettel was only ever going to end up ahead anyway, as he could switch off his limiter first.

The pitlane is not a place for racing, and safety must come first. I was therefore surprised to see that, yet again, this sort of behaviour has been let off with little more than a wrap across the knuckles. It reminded me a lot of Felipe Massa being let off for something very similar at the 2008 European Grand Prix. I find it bizarre that something potentially so dangerous is seemingly not taken so seriously by the FIA.

It was also worrying that the stewards decided only to investigate the incident after the race was finished. I think incidents should be looked into as soon as possible, with penalties being applied after the race only in exceptional circumstances.

It is worth looking also at the way drivers enter the pitlane as well as exiting it. Once again, Lewis Hamilton fell foul here, when he decided to effectively drive the wrong way across the race track to enter the pitlane after he had passed the actual entrance. It’s the sort of thing you do on a video game — should it really be allowed in real life?

There has been a lot of talk also about Fernando Alonso pushing his way past Felipe Massa on the way into the pitlane. Very feisty stuff, and very marginal. You might say it ought to be banned, but it was very exciting to watch, and possibly a pivotal moment in the drivers’ relationship within Ferrari.

But then, what are the white lines for?…


  1. Hello Duncan, nice to read you again about F1 😉

    Lenient…well choosen word for the stewards behaviour, lenient… but the question, because Lewis was involved?

    I’m not sure about if Lewis didn’t overtake Vett on the pit lane entrance first, Alonso would not have been penalized doing the same over Masa…just a feeling.

    Anyways, the wild Lewis’ entrance to the pit lane through the gravel….i have to agree with you, this shouldn’t be allowed….Was Fisichella in Singapur 2008 doing something similar and getting a good sanction?

    The Vettel-Ham incident…both should have been penalized, last year with all the fuel tanks around would have been a real danger.

    Alonso and Massa 🙂 it was being time for Alonso to show the eyetooth…

    Thanks for your time.


  2. Hi EGC — You are right, in practice for the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, Jarno Trulli drove in the wrong direction to enter the pits after a spin. He was fined €10,000.

  3. Hi Pink Peril — I have no real view. Once the Safety Car switches its lights off, the leader controls the pace, but it was a bit silly.

  4. Hi, Duncan.

    I really agree with you that being a little bit more permissive should be good for the show, as long as the safety, specially of those ones who are not driving a car (like the mechanics in the pitlane) is not clearly affected.

    I do wonder too why on earth the white lines are for, but I tend to blame the awful design of the entrance to boxes, with that ridiculous 90 degrees turn, and a lane that effectively allow two cars going in parallel. By the way, something (going in parallel) that should be clarified and forbidden asap (I recall the not very aesthetic movement from Kubica during qualifying).

    Also, how many reprimands are necessary before you get a real penalty? Still, there are too many factors when it comes to applying the rules in F1 that seem completely arbitrary. Guess it helps pepople to discuss and talk about it after the races, though.

    About the Button incident when the SC left, apparently the leader must give that car a safe distance before resuming the race, that could explain some of what happened. Also, the rule about the point when you can start overtaking cars has changed: it’s not the finish line anymore, but the “first safety car line”, which was right before entering the straight to the finish line.

    Sorry again about my English, kind of hard to be more precise. I hope it’s still understaindable.

    Great to read your thoughts about F1 again. See you around.

  5. Thanks Can — you are quite right about the slight change in the restart rules. I think this contributed a lot to the exaggerated bunching-up of the field. I have to confess that I’m not entirely clear why this rule has changed. After all, the start line seems like the sensible place to officially re-start the race. Does anyone know why this is now no longer the case?

  6. Well, about SC:

    40.7 All competing cars must then reduce speed and form up in line behind the safety car no more than ten car lengths apart. UIn order to ensure that drivers reduce speed sufficiently, from the time at which the “SAFETY CAR DEPLOYED” message is shown on the timing monitors until the time that each car crosses the first safety car line for the first time, drivers must stay above the minimum time set by the FIA ECUU.
    UWUith the following exceptions, Uovertaking isU forbidden until the cars reach the Ufirst safety car lineU after the safety car has returned to the pits. Overtaking will UonlyU be permitted under the following circumstances :
    Bla, bla, bla…..

    U40.11U When the clerk of the course decides it is safe to call in the safety car the message “SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP” will be displayed on the timing monitors and the car’s orange lights will be extinguished This will be the signal to the teams and drivers that it will be entering the pit lane at the end of that lap.
    At this point the first car in line behind the safety car may dictate the pace and, if necessary, fall more than ten car lengths behind it.
    In order to avoid the likelihood of accidents before the safety car returns to the pits, from the point at which the lights on the car are turned out drivers must proceed at a pace which involves no erratic acceleration or braking nor any other manoeuvre which is likely to endanger other drivers or impede the restart.
    As the safety car is approaching the pit entry the yellow flags and SC boards will be withdrawn and replaced by waved green flags with green lights at the Line. These will be displayed until the last car crosses the Line.$FILE/1-2010%20SPORTING%20REGULATIONS%2010-02-2010.pdf

    BTW. erratic braking…..Button?

    Cheers. 😉