The themes of 2008: penalties

Hamilton stalks Raikkonen at Spa and it\'s all about to kick off

Hamilton stalks Raikkonen at Spa and it's all about to kick off

Grid penalties, drive-through penalties, time penalties ?ǣ hardly an F1 session passed this year without some driver falling foul of the stewards.

Penalties spoiled races and one particularly controversial one almost decided the drivers? championship. Why were there so many this year?

Controversial penalty decisions ?ǣ especially ones involving championship contenders ?ǣ are nothing new.

In 2006 Michael Schumacher was thrown to the back of the grid at Monaco for blocking the track during qualifying, and Fernando Alonso was controversially penalised for impeding Felipe Massa in qualifying at Monza.

Alonso was at the centre of a penalty controversy last year as well, after blocking Lewis Hamilton in the pits at the Hungaroring.

This year we saw more penalties in what seems to be a growing trend for stewards to dish out punishments.

The big controversies

First, the headline-grabbers: Hamilton?s penalty at Spa cost him the race win. He was also penalised at Fuji for allegedly forcing Kimi Raikkonen off the track, and in the same race Sebastien Bourdais got a post-race penalty for a collision with Felipe Massa.

These were the most controversial calls of the season. At Spa, many felt Hamilton had ceded advantage back to Raikkonen after cutting the track; at Fuji, his team mate Heikki Kovalainen seemed to be the real culprit; and for Bourdais, many felt Massa was responsible for their collision, if blame could be placed at all.

A season in penalties

We seem to see more penalties each year. Not every penalty this season were as controversial as the three above, and many of these calls were correct, but it’s disappointing to see so many of them and you can’t always blame the drivers and teams for them.

Both McLarens picked up qualifying penalties in two separate races: Sepang, where both impeded traffic in qualifying, and Magny-Cours, where Kovalainen was again punished for impeding and Hamilton had a penalty from the previous race where he had crashed into Raikkonen. Nico Rosberg received the same penalty for hitting Hamilton.

Rubens Barrichello was disqualified in Melbourne for leaving the pit lane while the red light was on. Hamilton was penalised at Magny-Cours for going off the track to pass Sebastian Vettel. At Spa Kovalainen ran into Webber and was penalised, and at Fuji Massa got the same penalty for running into Hamilton.

During 2008 we also saw more of a new breed of penalties created in 2007, for pitting while the pit lane was ??closed? under the new safety car rules. Several drivers fell foul of this: Kovalainen at Melbourne, Nick Heidfeld at Catalunya, and Rosberg and Robert Kubica at Singapore.

Plus Glock at Melbourne and Spa, Massa at Valencia and Singapore, Raikkonen at Monte-Carlo, Nakajima at Sepang, Fisichella at Hockenheim, Bourdais at the Hungaroring?? And this excludes misdemeanours in practice and penalties for engine and (new for 2008) gearbox replacements.

Inconsistency

Consistency ?ǣ or the lack of it – was a big talking point, both in terms of what got punished and what punishments were used. Kovalainen received five-place grid penalties for his two acts of impeding during qualifying; Nick Heidfeld (at Singapore) got a three-place penalty. The stewards did not explain why.

Though Hamilton got a penalty for forcing Raikkonen off the road at Fuji, Raikkonen did not get the same for putting Adrian Sutil off the road (and out of the race) at Monte-Caro. Nor did Jarno Trulli for forcing Bourdais off at Interlagos.

Above all, there seems to be a desire to place blame where before certain decisions would be called ??racing incidents?. Once the stewards choose to punish a driver, they are expected to do so for similar incidents in the future.

Changes for 2009

The FIA were heavily criticised for their handling of some of the more controversial penalties ?ǣ not just for whether they chose to punish a driver, but the lack of reasoning they gave behind their decisions, and how the governing body conducted itself when it was challenged.

When McLaren appealed the Spa penalty it was ultimately told its appeal was inadmissible, though it took several weeks for that to happen. We learned the FIA?s own race steward, Charlie Whiting, told McLaren during the race they were in the clear, preventing the team from being able to return the position to Raikkonen a second time and avoid a penalty. During the appeal, the FIA claimed former race steward Tony Scott Andrews supported its position, but McLaren produced evidence from Scott Andrews suggesting the FIA had lied.

FIA president Max Mosley and chief steward Alan Donnelly rubbished claims that the stewarding process was unfair. But the FIA later confirmed changes to its procedure for 2009, bringing in new stewards for training (incredibly, this doesn?t happen already) and providing more video evidence to the public.

At the beginning of the year, Mosley brought in Donnelly to improve the stewards process, lauding his experience from working for the International Olympic Committee. Many were quick to point out the name ??Ferrari? also appears on Donnelly?s resume. It was inevitable that was going to lead to accusations of bias ?ǣ justified or not ?ǣ and that is exactly what happened.

The governing body is also looking for solutions to the pit lane closure rules problem, two years after creating it.

Its changes for 2009 promise greater transparency and improved training for stewards. But the fundamental problem remains: the rules governing what is and what isn?t allowed on the race track remain poorly documented, and stewards too often give inconsistent decisions from one Grand Prix to the next.

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34 comments on The themes of 2008: penalties

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  1. A more cynical man than myself might point out that if it weren’t for the crazy penalties this year we wouldn’t have had such a stupendous end to the season. If, by giving out these penalties, the stewards (and their master puppeteer) were aiming for a close finish to the championship then they did their job spectacularly well.
    .
    Given the viewing figures on ITV for the last laps of the Brazilian GP, I reckon we’ll be in for more of the same over the next few years…

  2. TommyBellingham said on 14th November 2008, 15:08

    “Why were there so many this year?”

    Because Hamilton would have won the Drivers championship with about 3 races to go if the FIA weren’t helping Massa get back in the title hunt

  3. Adrian said on 14th November 2008, 16:05

    Bernie said it all on the grid in Brazil…

  4. But no mention of the strangest and most apparently biased decision of the year – Massa’s fine for unsafe release from a pit stop in Valencia. This is the one that actually could have affected the championship most, the stewards delaying their decision until after Massa had won, whereas other drivers had been penalised immediately, then ignoring the prescribed penalties to give him a paltry fine.

  5. The Penalties given to various drivers (And im not just talking about Hamilton) defiantly made me think what are the stewards actually doing. For example the penalty given to Sebastian Bourdais, how was it his fault, in my opinion Massa tripped over Sebastian Bourdais and spun because of it, not Sebastian Bourdais blocking Massa.

    FIA = Ferrari International Aid

    Sorry stewards but there’s seriously been alot of bias with your decisions.

  6. I can’t quite remember when the penalty was given to Massa about unsafe pit release, but I understand that the Stewards don’t issue penalties if the race is nearly over example with 12 laps to go or something like that until the race is actually over.

  7. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 14th November 2008, 16:44

    Clive – Indeed, and another example of inconsistency, based on what we’ve seen in GP2.

  8. Too Good said on 14th November 2008, 17:18

    While FIA/Stewards have been incosistant, and we also have to accept it, the fans too are opportunists.Its only when their favorite driver gets penalized they go bersek,If identical penality is meted out to opponent, I have seen fans going at length to justify those penalties.
    When I say that I am making comment on all McLaren/Ferrari , Lewis/Kimi/Massa/Alonso fans.

    F1 has trascended realm of Sports and become sort of a War.

    With all due respect to the Blogger here, the article would not have been written in first place had any of the non-hamilton driver had been victim of these inconsistent penalties. I have been googling internet archives to find if Oceans were wept on Vettel Penalty at Fuji’07 when some “reignmeister” went stationery behind the SC,leaving poor vettel no where to go.

    So lets live with it that FIA stewards are inconsistent and whatever Alternate arrangement is introduced, there will still be claim of Biases and it will last till infinity.

    One also need to accept that Hamilton Fans Have ganged up so much against the stewarding that I am afraid stewards will think twice even when evaluating genuine cases of voilations going forward. probably only thing that will be left to them will be giving time-penalties to Back Markers disobeying blue flags, that too when the back markers are drivers of back of the grid team. If the back marker happens to be certain Hamilton or Massa, the stewards will look the other way fearing Fan Outcry.

    Take it or leave it, stirring stale stew is not taking nobody nowhere

  9. Too Good said on 14th November 2008, 17:27

    While FIA/Stewards have been incosistant, and we also have to accept it, the fans too are opportunists.Its only when their favorite driver gets penalized they go bersek,If identical penality is meted out to opponent, I have seen fans going at length to justify those penalties.
    When I say that I am making comment on all McLaren/Ferrari , Lewis/Kimi/Massa/Alonso fans.

    F1 has trascended realm of Sports and become sort of a War.

    With all due respect to the Blogger here, the article would not have been written in first place if only non-hamilton driver had been victim of these inconsistent penalties this season ? I have been googling internet archives to find if Oceans were wept on Vettel Penalty at Fuji’07 when some “reignmeister” went stationery behind the SC,leaving poor vettel no where to go.

    So lets live with it that FIA stewards are inconsistent and whatever Alternate arrangement is introduced, there will still be claim of Biases and it will last till infinity.

    One also need to accept that Hamilton Fans Have ganged up so much against the stewarding that I am afraid stewards will think twice even when evaluating genuine cases of *violations going forward. probably only thing that will be left to them will be giving time-penalties to Back Markers disobeying blue flags, that too when the back markers are drivers of back of the grid team. If the back marker happens to be certain Hamilton or Massa, the stewards will look the other way fearing Fan Outcry.

    Take it or leave it, stirring stale stew is not taking nobody nowhere.

    While Patriotism is OK but the limit to stretch it is questionable.
    I remember few years ago when “Finally” English cricket team won the ashes, everybody remotely connected with English Cricket received OBE.

    Christmas is round the corners and Hamilton fans would also be in good position to be honored for defending “Their Man”

  10. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 14th November 2008, 17:27

    Too Good – You’re completely wrong. Of course we shouldn’t ‘put up’ with the stewards being inconsistent. In that case, why have stewards and rules in the first place?

    Penalties used to be uncommon, now they are very common, and I think it’s entirely reasonable to ask why.

    The article would not have been written in first place had any of the non-Hamilton driver had been victim of these inconsistent penalties.

    Did you not read the article? I asked why Sebastien Bourdais got his penalty when the incident seemed not to be his fault. I asked why Nick Heidfeld’s penalty was inconsistent with Heikki Kovalainen’s. None of those drivers are Lewis Hamilton.

  11. I agree with most of your points Keith. except for “Massa at Valencia” penalty. I sincerely don’t think that warranted penalty of any sort. If at all he should have got a penalty was for his very childish statements about the incident later.

    Penalty at Singapore for the same crime was justified; since
    1. It was the 2nd time
    2. He had a 5 metre long tail attached to the car then ;)

  12. Too Good said on 14th November 2008, 17:43

    Keith I have read the article. Nothing personal here but I suspect if only Non-Hamilton drivers would have been penalized in 2008 season, would we have had this discussion ?

    As I said, Agreed Stewards are inconsistent, the Fans too hold double standards in evaluating race incidents. If you have stewarding in any format , ex drivers, video replays and what not , There will always be a Cry of “Foul Play” and “Rigging” from some corner?

    With so much hue and cry about stewarding, I am sure the stewarding quality (irrespective of stewarding format) is bound to suffer & only drivers that will get slapped with penalties will be those driving for back of the grid teams while the front runners will get away with murders.

    End of the day I understand this is a blog, so the blogger is entitled to pick and choose topics, since the forum provides option for comments I am expressing my views thats it

  13. Seedy001 said on 14th November 2008, 18:03

    I only really have one point to make Keith, which is that Hamilton and Rosberg didn’t get penalties for hitting Raikkonen but for ignoring the red light ie breaking a rule. Raikkonen on Sutil was just a mistake on track by Kimi, and thats just racing.

  14. John Spencer said on 14th November 2008, 19:07

    @ Too Good (12) – Sure, there will always be cries of foul play, just as there are in football, but at least in football the rules are actually written down, so we know what we’re arguing about. In F1, the grounds on which drivers are penalised are not written rules. Keith made a valiant attempt to list some of the unwritten rules, but it turns out the stewards don’t read this blog so they don’t know what the precedents should be.

    @Seedy001 (13) – I agree that Raikkonen on Sutil at Monaco was just a mistake, and yes that should just be racing. But a lot of the incidents punished by the stewards were also just mistakes that should just have been racing. Drivers rarely collide deliberately, although there are a couple of famous Prost/Senna incidents that were premeditated (and, I think, went unpunished by the stewards).

  15. Daniel said on 14th November 2008, 19:32

    Well, 1994 was also a season full of incidents and penalties and unpunshined infractions that influenced the championship outcome…

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