Debate: Do the FIA engineer championship showdowns?

Chinese Grand Prix 2007, Shanghai International Circuit, start | DaimlerThere are often allegations that the FIA favours one driver, or team, over another. I don’t take those claims very seriously.

But it does sometimes seem as though decisions are made with the purpose of engineering championship showdowns at the final round of the year. After all, it keeps up public interest in the season.

Does the sport’s governing body try to keep the championship battle alive until the end?

Here are a couple of stewards’ decisions that conveniently left the title hanging in the balance with one round to go:

1994

A string of decisions went against Michael Schumacher, including disqualification at Silverstone (and exclusion from two further races) and Spa-Francorchamps.

That kept Damon Hill in the title fight until the final round – when Schumacher swiped into Hill’s car, taking the Briton out of the race, and winning the championship.

1997

Jacques Villeneuve, along with several other drivers, were penalised for passing yellow flags without slowing down sufficiently during practice at Suzuka. But as Villeneuve had committed a similar misdemeanour earlier in the season, he was excluded from the weekend.

Villeneuve raced under appeal, arguing that he had passed the yellow flag on a straight and thought that lifting off or braking would have been more dangerous, citing the fact that other drivers had done the same in his defence.

But after the race his team were leant on to drop the charge, which they did. Nonetheless, Villeneuve won the title at Jerez following a controversial clash with Michael Schumacher.

1999

Perhaps the most celebrated championship controversy of all. The Ferraris were disqualified from their one-two finish at the Malaysian Grand Prix for having barge boards of illegal dimensions. That made Mika Hakkinen of McLaren champion.

To no-one’s great surprise Ferrari’s appeal was accepted and the title went down to the final round once again.

2003

The Michelin-supplied teams and drivers had enjoyed a healthy advantage through the middle of the season until the FIA changed the tyre rules following a complaint fro Bridgestone.

Michelin were forced to bring new tyres and every race from that point on was won by Bridgestone-shod Ferrari, giving Michael Schumacher his sixth championship win.

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19 comments on Debate: Do the FIA engineer championship showdowns?

  1. Eric M. said on 11th October 2007, 9:19

    Wow. Tough call. As much as I hate the FIA, I not prepared to say that they do engineer championships, but I wouldn’t put it past them either.

  2. Not that they are successful always in it, but they do.. I remember all those events in the post clearly when I thought they were doing it deliberately. Sure? No.

  3. nellyweb said on 11th October 2007, 10:24

    In the words of Amy Winehouse – No No No!

  4. Sigmund said on 11th October 2007, 11:18

    No. I don’t believe they do, but I think they have a tendency to favour som drivers and teams, most notably the most popular ones. Probably sometimes without meaning to.

    Not punishing Lewis in Fuji, not excluding the McLaren drivers from the championship, not punishing Lewis and Schumacher for being pushed on to the track, punishing Montoya in Indy 2003, not punishing Schumacher for passing by cutting a chicane at Hungary last year and the like.

    I don’t think the FIA always are fair, something they really should strive harder for.

  5. oliver said on 11th October 2007, 14:36

    Sigmund:

    As regards favouring some drivers, its a possibility, especially in the year of 1994, when Hill got so many favours, but still failed to capitalize. Schumacher was even black flagged at Silverstone for overtaking the pole car at the start of the warm up lap, something that happens alot this days. The following year, Hill crashed into Schumacher on several occasions, one of the worse being at Silverstong, where he came from way back trying to overtake, and he wasnt penalised.

    Lewis’ Fuji incident is very debateable, mainly for the fact that they were not under race conditions, but under the safety car, and it was left to the drivers behind to use their discretion.

    The crane incident at the Nurburgring was not as clear as you would think. I believe keith listed out some of the regulations concerning the recovery of vehicles some time back, and in those regulations, there are areas that talk about the recovery of vehicles and the driver being able to rejoin the race if he can repair damage. And if a car can be recovered for repairs, how then can it not be recovered when its still in perfect conditions, and lets not forget, all the other drivers who got into the sand trap, either stalled their engines or damaged their cars suffiently to render any recovery a pointless excercise.

    Concerning the Hungarian qualifying, Lewis’ actions where punishable by the team, but Alonso’s actions could be interpreted as impeding a driver during qualifying. Despite the fact I believed he shouldnt have been punished. And I cant still understand why Mclaren should have been punished.

    Finally as regards the non disqualification of the Mclaren drivers. Its a well known fact some Ferrari information was in the hands of some Mclaren personnel. However, the FIA, I’m sure, Know fully well, the information was not used in the cars. He wanted Ferrari to score a moral victory, since they were being mauled on the track, and I can guarantee not many people would have bothered to watch a lone Ferarri fight for the drivers championship. If we assume Max loves the English driver, we can also fully assume, that he hates the team he drives for.

  6. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 11th October 2007, 14:44

    Here’s the article Oliver’s referring to:

    Debate: Was Hamilton’s restart legal?

  7. Christopher said on 11th October 2007, 15:26

    I can’t remember what year it was, but I believe it was qualifying in the final race of the season where the top three driver all posted precisely the same qualifying times, to a thousandth of a second.

    Even although there are rules as to how to rank the people in that situation, it still seems a bit odd to me. Though at the same time, it would surely take a lot to fix that sort of situation? It depends who provides the timing system I guess.. i.e. are the teams allowed their own independent timing systems?

  8. William Wilgus said on 11th October 2007, 15:28

    Regarding the Michelin tires in 2003, the rules weren’t changed. It was discovered that Michelin tire’s tread width increased as they wore. Indeed, it was frequently commented that new Michelins were slower than new Bridgestones for their first one or two laps. When the `cheat’ was revealed, Michelin protested loudly that it would take two or three months to build new tire molds, but for the very next race, `magically’ produced tires that complied to the tread width rule throughout their life. Obviously, Michelin expected to be caught out at some point and was prepared to produce fully compliant tires from the beginning of the season. At any rate, it was the end of the advantage for Michelin-shod teams.

  9. Eric M. said on 11th October 2007, 15:38

    “I can’t remember what year it was, but I believe it was qualifying in the final race of the season where the top three driver all posted precisely the same qualifying times, to a thousandth of a second.”

    That would have to be the 1997 race at Jerez. Schumacher, Villeneuve and Frentzen posted identical times. The driver who posted the time first, Villeneuve, got the pole.

  10. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 11th October 2007, 16:24

    On the Michelin thing, their tyres were legal before the rule change, and illegal after it.

    I wouldn’t accuse them of ‘cheating’ because they’d obeyed the letter of the law and not the perceived spirit of the rules. At any rate, they weren’t the first people to take such an approach to the F1 rules book and they weren’t the last either.

  11. AndyJ said on 11th October 2007, 16:40

    Well, if Kimi wins the championship we’ll have our answer……

  12. Robert Mckay said on 11th October 2007, 18:24

    There’s no difference between the Michelin tyre thing of ’03, Renault’s mass damper system and Ferrari’s flexing floor. The FIA never intended anyone to try those things, but they never said you couldn’t, either, so they were all legal till they were deemed illegal. No cheating.

    But they were all also probably banned to close things back up, that was a handy bonus of all those aspects.

  13. oliver said on 11th October 2007, 19:45

    Thanks for the article keith.

    Well that mass damper ruling still puzzles me till this date. Cause I have always believed aerodynamic devices where those that came in contact with the air stream. But I also do not believe at the same time, that its comparable to the Ferrari flexi floor or the Michelin tyre thing.

    The Michelin tyre thing was just a loophole that was expoloited to the maximum, like wise the flexi floor. But as you say William, it did surprise me how quickly Michelin did come up with different tyres, despite their protestation of length of time required, I suspect they were well aware of the potential of discovery and thus had an alternative as a back up.

    The flexi floors where the most amazing, I wont still term it cheating really, but the way they were designed or programmed to just pop at a certain speed is what I still find baffling to this day, I also believe there was talk of some electrical connection present. Please correct me if its not right.

  14. Oliver raised an interesting point, while I’m not much into conspiracy theories normally, isn’t it curious that it was okay to crane Hamilton in Germany, but in China there was little useful assistance?

    It must be a coincidence, because it can be argued that it is in FIA’s best interest for the constructor’s championship to go down to the last race as well.

  15. This season seems to be really dividing fans over Alonso, over Hamilton, over Ferrari etc etc :-) We do not even need Michael Schumacher :-)For example there is a list of 11 cases of either unfair treatment of Alonso or strange behaviour of Hamilton circulating around the internet, this comes from some unhappy Alonso fans of course, even with some petition attached …

    I would not say FIA is engineering the showdown this year, unless they managed to order the rain for the previous 2 races :-) But, the incosistency in their decisions over the years sure creates suspicions anytime some convenient coincidence happens.

    What I do find strange however, is FIA assigning a steward to make sure nothing wrong happens to Alonso during the final race … This is another sign how much distrust there is right now between FIA and McLaren as well as between Alonso and the team. If the people inside F1 distrust each other that much, what can we, fans, do ?

    The cases similar to flexi floors this year, mass dampers last year will continue to happen … Every team will keep exploiting any loopholes they find in the rules, and push the rules to the limit or even over it … Some will get away with it without punishment (legal until declared illegal), some will not (BAR in 2005…). With so many grey areas in the complicated F1 regulations the suspicions over FIA’s intentions will always be there. The only way to erradicate them would be to make the rules very simple, clearly state what exactly is banned and everything else should be be allowed …

    Right now, we should just enjoy the showdown, who knows when again we will have 3 drivers with a shot at the title with 1 race to go.

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