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.


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

  1. Rachel said on 17th November 2008, 9:33

    @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.

  2. AussieLeb said on 17th November 2008, 9:42

    @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.

  3. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th November 2008, 9:57

    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.

  4. 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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