Fine for Ferrari, Massa gets off free, and the FIA gets it wrong on every count

Felipe Massa escaped punishment for his slighty-too-fast getaway

Felipe Massa escaped punishment for his slighty-too-fast getaway

Felipe Massa has not been punished following his incident in the pits with Adrian Sutil in today’s European Grand Prix. His Ferrari team has been fined ??10,000 (??7,979) for releasing him into the path of Sutil’s car following his second pit stop on lap 37.

It’s a baffling verdict by the FIA and one that will be seen by many as further evidence the sports’ governing body goes out of its way to favour Ferrari.

I’m not convinced by Ferrari’s claim Massa gained no advantage, I think the penalty is totally unsuited to the infraction, and it is inconsistent with past FIA decisions.

Ferrari’s defence

Stewards\' document 41 explained Massa\'s penalty (click to enlarge)

Stewards' document 41 explained Massa's penalty (click to enlarge)

As expected the stewards deemed Ferrari’s release of Massa a violation of article 23.1 (i) of the Sporting Regulations: “It is the responsibility of the competitor to release his car after a pit stop only when it is safe to do so.”

The decision issued by the stewards described the incident as: “Unsafe release from pit stop, although no sporting advantage was obtained.”

The use of the phrase “no sporting advantage was obtained” is surprising. It echoes the defence of the incident given by Ferrari’s Luca Colajanni immediately afterwards, that neither Massa was advantaged nor Sutil disadvantaged by the move.

The defence that ‘no advantage was gained’ is not ordinarily one that has much currency with the FIA. As Autosport’s Thomas O’Keefe, an expert on the FIA’s regulations, wrote in 2002 (sub. req.):

The Court of Appeal tends not to take kindly to defenses of competitors that sound like “we had no performance advantage” or there were “exceptional circumstances” or “it was unintentional,” which the FIA seems to regard as equivalent to The-Dog-Ate-My-Homework.

Apparently on this occasion the stewards of the meeting were quite happy with Ferrari’s claim that no advantage was gained by them – even if it wasn’t true.

I’m not convinced there is absolute proof Massa did not gain an advantage. Afterwards he admitted that he had lost time letting Sutil go past him:

I came very close to [colliding with him], so I needed to back off, and for sure I lost a lot of time.

Despite that he still left the pit lane about as close to the Force India as he could possibly have been.

So did he gain an advantage? Let’s imagine Ferrari had kept him in his box, and waited for Sutil to pass before releasing him. Would have have been able to leave the pits as close to Sutil as he did?

I would say almost certainly not. I think it is more than likely he gained an advantage by being released alongside Sutil, and then merging in behind the Force India, than being released by the team from a standing start as the car went past.

Massa’s defence

Massa’s reaction to the incident was, bizarrely, to blame Sutil:

I think it wasn?t very clever from his side, because even if he got out in front of me he would need to let me by, so it was a little bit of a shame to fight with him in the pit lane.

I stopped behind him on the pit stop and we left together. So when he was passing me by I was leaving the garage, so we were side-by-side. But, I mean, I was the leader and he was a lapped car.

This is irrelevant and rather silly. The rules say one car should not be released until it is safe to do so. It’s not realistic to expect cars that might be a lap down to stop and wait for another car to come out.

Precedent

The precedent based on how the stewards have handled previous ‘unsafe releases’ is somewhat confusing.

On several occasions F1 cars have left the pit lane two abreast. For example, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel had just such a run-in at Hockenheim:

One might argue that on that occasion the pit lane was wide enough for both cars, whereas at Valencia it clearly was not. Presumably that was the FIA’s opinion as on that occasion neither driver was punished.

During the GP2 feature race at Valencia Karun Chandhok received a drive-through penalty after being released into the path of another competitor. The stewards wasted no time in punishing him.

Was Chandhok’s pit violation that much more unsafe than Massa’s? It’s hard to see how.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

Given the FIA have accepted Massa’s release from the pit lane was unsafe, their choice of punishment is completely wrong.

The purpose of a punishment should be to prevent someone from breaking the rules. When a team has broken the rules and gained an advantage, as Ferrari may have done here, and their punishment is a small (by F1 standards) fine, they are not going to be dissuaded from doing it again.

If Ferrari saved as little as half a second by releasing Massa too soon, they may consider it ??10,000 well spent. Extra performance does not necessarily come so cheaply in the wind tunnel.

Yes, it would have been a shame to see Massa punished for a mistake he was not responsible for (despite his pathetic attempt to balme Sutil) having driven so well. But it is the only worthwhile way of penalising safety violations.

And just to make it worse…

Whether the FIA had punished Massa or not there would have lots of people unhappy with the outcome. During the F1 Fanatic live blog a poll on whether Massa should be punished split the audience 49% to 51%.

But what the FIA unquestionably got wrong was delaying the decision until after the race. Given that they were able to render a verdict on Chandhok’s misdemeanour in the GP2 race so quickly, it appeared very dubious that they deferred a decision on Massa’s penalty.

In the same weekend many were surprised to see Timo Glock go unpunished after delaying two other cars during qualifying. Once again the FIA’s decision-making seems totally arbitrary and inconsistent.

Do you think Massa should have been penalised for the pit lane infraction?

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129 comments on Fine for Ferrari, Massa gets off free, and the FIA gets it wrong on every count

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  1. robert holt said on 24th August 2008, 19:35

    i think he should have been, but knew he wasn’t going to be

  2. Ratboy said on 24th August 2008, 19:48

    This is typical Ferrari, getting away with it,

    Had it been Hamilton, he would have been punished.
    Once more we are talking about incidents involving the race, and not about the race.

  3. Steve K said on 24th August 2008, 19:51

    A rule is a rule even if it is a bad one. No one retired from the race, no contact was made. Cars should be free to go in and out of their pit stall as they please. Any contact usually means the end of the race for both anyway, let them police themselves.

  4. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 24th August 2008, 19:54

    Steve contact between two cars in the pit lane would likely mean more than just drivers being taken out of the race – it could mean mechanics getting injured or worse.

  5. their was a cameraman by Bernt Maylanders car. you know the car that Massa missed by half a metre

  6. I think it will be clear to most people, that Ferrari and Massa got off lightly. It seem to me that they wanted to see what the outcome of the race would be and then apply the punishment if you can call it that. It’s a shame because it’s putting me off F1. Rules are Rules,
    so they should stick to it, no matter the outcome. Lewis would have been punished during the race or the next race.

  7. It’s no good to complain that Lewis wouldn’t have gotten away with it, that’s hypothetical at best and a bit childish.
    I do think Massa was lucky to keep the win, but I would blame Ferrari’s “traffic lights” system for Massa’s quick release. If it had been a human being standing in front of the car with a lollipop, he’d have seen that Sutil was coming and could have waited to release Massa.

  8. I’m surprised that the post-race weight of Massa’s car hasn’t even been a talking point — he started with the brake covers on and finished with them off! I’m sure they’re lightweight but so I’m not surprised it passed inspection, just surprised I’ve heard no one mention it.

  9. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 24th August 2008, 20:39

    Kevin – excellent spot! I guess they set the car’s weight on the presumption that it might lose them as they’re quite vulnerable.

  10. Guys I think you’re right:
    Massa should be punished even if there was no contact between Ferrari & Force India

  11. Does anyone else think that Stoker, Spano & Vidal might get a nice present from Italy for Christmas this year ?

  12. Dorian said on 24th August 2008, 20:59

    As a Ferrari fan, I’m hardly disappointed with the decision of the stewards but I still think that the penalty was ridiculous. The rules are there for a reason and if there’s not a stringent enough punishment, then what extra reason is there for teams to be more careful?

    That being said I think the rule should be looked at. I’ve always believed: Punish the driver for a driving error, punish the team for a team error. Though there is a strong argument that Massa should have been penalised via a drive/through or grid penalty, How awful would that have been for the race and the outcome?! Massa drove beautifully and deserved the win and his 10 points, to take anything away from him would be a sin. But someone should be punished and that should be Ferrari. Dock them constructors points or fine them a significant amount of money. €10000 to an F1 team is like ice-cream money to the rest of us.

    As a Ferrari fan I often tire of people continuingly going on about pro-Ferrari bias and jibes like FIArrari and Ferrari International Assistance but after decisions like today, the FIA aren’t exactly doing their best to counteract these claims…

  13. While this is just the latest in a long line of examples where the FIA appears to have given preferential treatment towards Ferrari, we are now getting to the stage where a clear enough pattern is emerging as to raise more serious questions about what exactly is really going on inside the FIA. Do Ferrari have some kind of hold over them, or a few high-up individuals within the sport? Do the FIA have a conflict of interest?

    I am an advocate of Occam’s razor, which would suggest that rather than a deliberate action by the FIA to favour Ferrari, they have simply screwed up once again. But the situation now seems to be moving away from one of simple incompetence, towards something more sinister. Is it time to ask the question – does the FIA need to be cleaned up?

  14. No blame of Massa and i think only sligt of Ferrari. It was a bad luck. Nothing happend to the Sutil or Massa. If the Pit exit was bigger (like in Monza) this will be no problem.

    Remmember when Kubica and Alonso go out of the pit boxes in Monza 2006 wheel to wheel and no damage was done…

    I think you overreacting. If the same situation was with Lewis Hamilton an Adrian Sutil you still will be wanting a penalty for Lewis and McLaren?

  15. FIA wants Massa to win the championship plain and simple, because he has PASSION! and that’s what they want in a champion. The guy can’t drive well at all unless on pole position, but that’s what they want. Why else would he constantly be short fueled?!? Obviously there is a group in Ferrari, most likely lead by Michael Schumacher and Todt to sabatoge Kimi’s championship run so his “protege” can win the title.

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