The themes of 2008: penalties

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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.


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.

34 comments on “The themes of 2008: penalties”

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  1. theRoswellite
    15th November 2008, 0:50

    Everybody should take a look at John Spencer’s post.

    It seems a bit goofy to just argue back and forth about who should have or should not have been penalized, when the essential (ongoing?!?!) problem is simply….1) no easily understood, both to the contestants and to the stewards, WRITTEN rules….which are specific enough to actually hold up under continued usage. And, 2) professionals in place to interpret these rules, thus providing continuity and equity.

    With regard to this issue the FIA is being managed like an “old boys club”, when all of us, fans, teams, and drivers, deserve better.

  2. I have to say that I’m am excited to know that someone else is sick of the constant rants of bias towards Ferrari by the FIA when making certain decisions ( Too Good). There is no question that there is an issue with the transparency of the rules however as Keith will hopefully discuss in the near future, if there is any bias why is it that since the FIA came to be, in F1, the WDC results have favoured McLaren?

    As I have said in previous threads, the FIA are not only responsible for governing F1 yet F1 seems to be the only code who’s fans cry foul about said bias. Without sounding too Australian (although there’s nothing wrong with that!!!) the voices that do the whinging seem to always have a distinct British accent!!! Even when the “Golden Child” comes good and (as sensationalised on this blog and most British media) beats the evil that conspired to attempt to deny him his WDC.

    Slightly off topic, I think the biggest injustice this season has been that a talent like Vettel was stuck behind the wheel of a inferior machine. I would love to see Vettel take the WDC and take the “youngest to do so” title. IMHO he’s the best driver in F1 at the moment.

  3. Beneboy – Agree with you , that state of racing is not like soccer hooliganism.I have always added more friends to my racing circle,every time I have been to F1/motor races, and not have been supporters of my favorite team/drivers.

  4. AussieLeb –

    as sensationalised on this blog

    I’ve done nothing of the sort, and throwing unfounded accusations like that around isn’t going to persuade me of anything.

  5. AussieLeb

    I think the biggest injustice this season has been that a talent like Vettel was stuck behind the wheel of a inferior machine. I would love to see Vettel take the WDC and take the “youngest to do so” title. IMHO he’s the best driver in F1 at the moment

    I agree with you about Vettel being a very talented young driver, he’s quickly becoming one of my favourite drivers & I hope he gets a decent car from Red Bull for next season.

    I enjoy seeing talented young drivers in the smaller teams at the beginning of their F1 career though, it’s almost like an apprenticeship for them.

    Seeing them out-perform their cars & getting in amongst the top drivers, like the way Vettel did this season, adds to the excitement and there are few things better than seeing your favourite up & coming driver get his first drive in a big team.

    Some of my favourite memories in F1 are from seeing guys like Alonso in a Minardi or Schumacher in a Jordan (if only briefly) upsetting the front runners with inferior equipment.

    In a way Lewis has suffered from starting at McLaren, had he done a season in a smaller team last year & got some good results then most fans would have been overjoyed to see him step into a McLaren this season & win the WDC.

    Too Good – Long may it remain that way, sitting up till dawn with some like minded fans is a great way to spend a weekend :~)

  6. Having read and re-read your article, Keith, then remembered recent F1 history, and finally read the comments we have so far, two things emerge as being utterly inarguable.

    1. Nobody can claim that when Schumacher had championship after championship sewn up by mid season it wasn’t about as toxic for F1 viewing figures worldwide as you could get. The grim inevitability of those events frightened Mosley and Ecclestone to death.
    Their bank balances were at stake !

    2. As result, by fair means or foul, our brothers Machiavelli made DAMN sure nobody ( well almost nobody )gets the chance to run away with a season before the closing races.

    And their weapon of choice ? Complicate the rules and application thereof as much as possible and lean on the stewards to micro-manage as appropriate ( or inappropriate )every single race.

    Sounds like a cheap novel ? That’s the level we’ve reached in our once-proud sport. It used to be a much-remarked accasion when ANY penalty was awarded to any driver. And speaking as a brit, Mosley and Ecclestone bring shame on us all. As someone has already remarked, Ecclestone’s words on the grid at Interlagos were chillingly revealing of their current attitude and as far as I can detect a word like ‘integrity’ would not trouble either of them.
    attitudes and it’s only a short

  7. My main concern this year was that the time period for some of the ‘decision making’ done by the stewards was painfully slow. The way in which the Spa penalty was handled was retarded beyond belief, in that Hamilton was awarded the trophy and the podium celebration that
    followed, only to be told he was actually the third placed finisher. Very, very amateur from the FIA.
    Also, the horrible situation that befell Williams and BMW Sauber in Singapore, when they were penalised for pitting cars during the safety car period. A rule that brought widespread disdain, even from the race winner
    Fernando Alonso.
    As previously mentioned, the Valencia pit incident involving Massa was also bizarre, especially as Bruno Senna was penalized in GP2 for the exact same crime but Massa was not.
    If the FIA are trying to suggest that they are fair, balanced, and uncorrupt in their rules and policing these rules, then they have a very long way to go.
    It is true that the points Hamilton lost in Belgium led to a very exciting finale in Brazil, but then why should a driver be ‘battered’ for having a large points lead?
    Nigel Mansell won the championship in 1992 with a huge points lead, Michael Schumacher made a habit out of doing it, without even the hint of a stewards investigation.
    The FIA needs to give the people a show they can understand, and needs to let the drivers race, on circuits more befitting the sports unique heritage.

  8. Aussielab: “Without sounding too Australian (although there’s nothing wrong with that!!!)”

    I don’t know about that, if you think hearing people complain about the FIA bias is bad it would be much worse with a rising intonation at the end of every sentence regardless of whether or not it’s a question.

    The number of complaints is proportional to the injustice of the decisions, we’d rather neither occurred as well but right now I’m just thankful justice was finally done.

    As for Vettel, I’m certainly glad he’ll have a chance to put Webber’s (non) F1 career finally to bed in 2009. Bring it on.

  9. The Limit

    Hamilton was awarded the trophy and the podium celebration that followed, only to be told he was actually the third placed finisher. Very, very amateur from the FIA.

    Well thats not the first time that has happened, the guy on the top step was the ultimate winner remember Brazil’03.

    FIA/F1, has always been like this. Ofcourse the Autocratic way this particular sport is ruled increases the probability of Inconsistencies. But then that has been the case always. remember 2003 when Michelin Tyres were deemed not meeting regulations, and that after Michelin using the same specs as “mandated” by regulating body ever since they returned to F1 in new millenium.
    Then Renault were ganged up against in 2006 when their Damper System which they had been using from 2004 suddenly became questionable at crucial juncture of 2006 when Schumacher and Ferrari were seeing realistic chance of championship, if not for Renault and Alonso.
    I never heard “Witch Hunt” against Renault claims and Fans weeping Oceans for “Injustice done” Alonso. Renault and Alonso were pretty much left to fight their own battles.

    I have quoted enough examples in all my post to highlight that while we the
    fans cry for double standards shown by FIA, we are pretty much the same.
    I am sure Spanish Fan and Spanish Media might have gone hoarse in 2006 , while others didn’t care.

  10. Chris Johnson
    16th November 2008, 3:57

    I love that Alan Donnelly was given the FIA steward advisor position partially based on his work with the International Olympic Committee. As if the IOC was some paragon of impartiality!!

    Penalties, especially Spa, nearly ruined this season.

  11. @Chris Johnson “paragon of impartiality” – love it!

    In some ways I’m quite glad the FIA are inconsistent, flouting their own, largely unwritten rules, causing grief to drivers, fans, circuit owners to name a few. At some point I intend to be the lawyer who takes them to court. A restraint of trade case might make their bank managers weep more than a predictable end to the season ever could. Even the FIA can be held accountable – it’s just about finding the right way to go about it.

  12. @Keith – You have taken my opinion very personal Keith. If I meant that you have made comments that lend to such sensationalism then I would have refered to you specifically. I was referring to the general tone of this blog and the majority opinion therein.

    @Phil B – If I was slightly off on my pidgeon English grammar that I apologise if it bothered you. As for Mark Webber he was never going to have a chance. Unlike Lewis Hamilton who was essentially gifted a WDC while blokes like Vettel are stuck in the second tier car with more talent. Lewis tried his hardest to penalise himself out of the race with some dangerous and sometimes childish driving but still managed to jag himself a WDC….. Am I bringing it on enough for you Phil?

    @ Beneboy – My point exactly.

  13. Aussieleb – You were referring to the comments, then, not the blog?

    Too Good –

    I am sure Spanish fan and Spanish media might have gone hoarse in 2006, while others didn’t care.

    Well I’m not Spanish and I wrote this:

    Alonso was making the case that he did not impede Felipe Massa intentionally, which the FIA have belatedly agreed is reasonable. Alonso did not try to argue that Massa hasn’t been delayed. The FIA owed him contrition, not contempt.

    (Alonso penalty: justice delayed)
    There was plenty written in the British media about how unjust Alonso’s penalty at Monza was in 2006. I remember Martin Brundle taking Max Mosley to task over it on the starting grid.

    You may consider nationality very important but I don’t.

  14. theRoswellite #21 – Good point. I also think that the FIA (under Max) is trying to run motorsport as a ‘gentlemens club’, with unwritten rules and favouritism in spadefuls. Meanwhile, FOM and the teams are having to survive by becoming very sophisticated blue-chip companies, chasing sponsorship and getting increasingly technical in the search for speed and dominance.
    This means that the old boys of the FIA don’t really understand what a modern F1 car can do – I’m sure most of them haven’t been near a race since the 1950s. So when the teams appear to be designing cars to flaunt the rules, all the FIA can do is make up new rules on the spot and delay their decisions as long as possible when it all gets a bit technical and over their heads.
    So, what I want from Max before next season is:
    1. No Unwritten Rules, what is in the Rulebook only
    2. Consultation with the Teams before writing down the ‘clarification’ of the dubious areas highlighted in 2008 and before. (I think this is happening?)
    3. Written confirmation that NO FIA official has any connection with any current team, manufacturer or sponsor, signed by Max himself
    4. The appointment of ex-drivers and team principles as trackside advisers in every race (subject to No 3 of course)
    5. Publication immediately after every race of a written statement from the Stewards justifying any decisions made during it, and signed by them too – this can be seen by all parties and the media, and therefore becomes useful over the problems the Stewards have with ‘precedent’.

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