Two sides to the Hamilton-Trulli controversy: Another avoidable crisis

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Race Control could have resolved the problem in seconds, not days
Race Control could have resolved the problem in seconds, not days

Radio conversations have shown that in the moments after Lewis Hamilton overtook Jarno Trulli in the Australian Grand Prix McLaren’s first concern was to ensure they had not broken any rules.

The responsibility for the controversy that ensued lies as much with the FIA and the stewards as it does McLaren.

Race control

Here’s how Martin Whitmarsh explained the discussion on the McLaren pitwall after Hamilton had overtaken Trulli:

As soon as that happened, we then spoke to Race Control, to explain that and ask if we could retake that place. At the time, understandably Race Control was busy and they were not able to give us an answer. We asked several times, but clearly they were very busy. So we had to then deal with it.

It is doubtful a controversy quite as unnecessary as the one we have just experienced in F1 could happen in sports like Indy Car or NASCAR.

Why? Because they have established the practice of using race control to resolve queries like this to minimise changes to the race order after the chequered flag.

If a driver appears in the wrong position during a safety car period, they don’t wait until after the race to shuffle the order around. And they certainly don’t do it by handing out an arbitrary time penalty that bears no relation to the severity of the infraction, as Jarno Trulli originally experienced.

They use common sense. They radio the teams, tell them to swap their drivers around, and the job is done quickly and painlessly.

After the Spa controversy last year Max Mosley made it known that teams should not consult race control (in the form of race director Charlie Whiting, mentioned in the McLaren transcripts) on such matters.

This is a mistake. By denying teams the opportunity to sort out problems with Race Control quickly Mosley is dooming F1 to suffer a cycle of scandal after scandal.

Indy Car run races on tracks comparable in length to F1 venues, with more cars. If they can use race control to resolves problems like this quickly, F1 can too. And it must.

Evidence and rules

This weekend we saw the first signs of the FIA’s promises to make the stewarding process more transparent in 2009. There were some obvious improvements: radio broadcasts and transcripts were published on the FIA’s website.

But there is much room for improvement as well. Not least the fact it took until four days after the race for this material to appear.

The reasoning for some of the decisions were woefully thin. Sebastian Vettel was handed a penalty because “caused a collision and forced a driver off the track”. There are no details why he was the one considered responsible. It later emerged FIA steward Alan Donnelly took him to one side at Malaysia and explained the reasons in greater detail, but the public has not been given this information.

The FIA have made some improvements to how they communicate their stewards’ decisions and it is appreciated. But far more is needed than these cosmetic changes. We need clearer and more explicit rules for driving standards and far greater detail given in the reasoning behind decisions.

But more than anything else, someone needs to see sense and start using Race Control to avoid minor misunderstandings needlessly spiralling into something that damages F1’s credibility.

With that, assuming there are no major developments in the Hamilton-Trulli story this weekend, let’s get back to the racing.

Read the first part of this post: Two sides to the Hamilton-Trulli controversy: Hamilton apologises

62 comments on “Two sides to the Hamilton-Trulli controversy: Another avoidable crisis”

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  1. ERICO…catch a grip!

  2. In a sport as fast-paced as F1 where even a few hundredth of a second can mean so much, it reflects prodigiously gross on the FIA for using such Neanderthal problem solving techniques as post-race investigations. One would think they would try to get in tune with the demands of the sport and resolve problems as fast as possible. Failure to do that, at least they should try. IN most of the recent F1 scandals, nothing has shown us that they FIA has eagerly sought to resolve a problem with the urgency that we F1 lovers would like to see. For this reason, we will continue to suffer at the hands of a bunch of idiots (not my first choice word)until the organisation realises they have absolutely failed to do their job and change the system completely to reflect a sport as sophisticated and fast-paced as Formula One.

    1. Agree completely but the suggestion would not help our Emperor Max to guide/bully teams into submission !! Note the frightened tone of LH and pit wall radio comm.

  3. Captain Caveman
    3rd April 2009, 14:55

    I am not really a Lewis fan, but that aside I would have to say that his apology did seem sincere. (although he only apologised because he got caught)

    But the fact is that he still lied or at least misled with the knowledge that someone else (innocent) was going to be penalised.

    He still went of his way to not tell the complete truth. The fact that he was told to do so is no excuse, he has his own opinion and strength of character.

    What it raises to me, is that now everyone is questioning… was this the first time? What did happen the season before last (Hungary and Monaco). When he wants to represent himself he can.

    I might be wrong, but I am sure this will take some time for him to lose the tag of a liar, in the same way as Kimi is lazy, Alonso moody and Senna great

  4. I think that the stewards made the right decisions, and were right to re-open the case, even if it was a couple of days late – they realised their mistake and rectified it – i think that is something that should be applauded, because, without appeal, these things dont usually ever get changed!

    My problem is that it took so long to come to light in the first place. Yes they had misleading evidence, but why did it take until Wednesday after the race for this ‘new’ evidence – part of which was Hamiltons post race interview and the radio transmissions, all of which were available in the public domain relatively quickly after the race, let alone to the stewards – to be discovered. They should have been much more thorough in the first place. They werent helped by Mclaren and Hamilton though.

  5. News just coming in that the legendary director stephen speilberg has plans to make a multi-million(perphaps to the tune of 100 million $ ) movie. The new movie is titled LIAR LIAR II. Lewis ‘liar’ hamilton replaces Jim Carrey in the lead role. Vodafone r supposedly funding the entire movie. The movie also features ron dennis as one of lewis’ co-actor. Rowan atkinson is supposedly to be writing hamiltons script. The movie is to be made in a record time. It is set to release during the british g.p. P.S. I SWEAR ON THE FIA’s CODE OF CONDUCT BOOK THAT THE ABOVE MENTIONED FACT IS TRU(LLI)E.

  6. IMO… The real issue is with the shortcomings of Race Control/FIA and their inadequacy to provide clear rules/quick decisions during a race.

    To pin the blame on the teams is diversionary. This racing and not a court of law.

    Drivers are best at racing. That’s what they do. I would look elsewhere, not F1, if I was looking for examples of high moral standards.

    Let the teams/drivers Race.
    Let this continue to remain a sport.

  7. I haven’t read all the comments, so I might be saying something repeated.

    Of course it is completely stupid to wait so much time to take a decision on something so trivial as a mis-placed driver.
    When the SC car comes out, overtaking is prohibited even if cars have not queued behind the SC car, correct? So if at next lap, there is a change of positions, the stewards should take an immediate action! They could talk to the teams asking what happened and giving an order, like “hold positions” or let someone else retake its spot.
    Of course if something odd or different information came at the time, they would have to take a decision later. But this was something that everyone was aware at the time, Lewis passed Trulli and then Trulli passed back, without having acces to all the telemetry and othr communication the stewards (or race control) have, that its just plain silly that it takes all this time, and they take one decision then another…

  8. The FIA is publishing the teams transcripts which are already open to all. What we need to see are the FIA’s transcripts, the questions they ask and the answers, and the personnel asking the questions. That is the true TRANSPARENCY.

  9. James Allen revealed on his f1 blog that there are no minutes kept of stewards meetings. This is a pretty shocking revelation for a sport that teams spend billions on.

    Until there is an amendment to this (lack of) policy how can the F.I.A ever deliver on their promise of transparency for Stewards decisions?

  10. I think Whitmarsh is in a damage limitation mode now. He should know the rules and should not have to ask Whiting for advice. Anyway, he was not supposed to contact Whiting, so he was a fault there as well! But the main issue here is that Hamilton was told to lie. Just shows the strength of his character that he agreed to do just that!

  11. @ Keith,

    If it’s blatantly obvious to us all that hiring more stewards or a dedicated set of stewards to talk to teams is cheaper than the way to do it now, then it must surely be obvious to the folks at the FIA – who can actually see the numbers. And if all Bernie is interested is in profits, surely he would have acted on it by now if it’s cheaper than doing it the current way?

    I don’t buy that the only explanation for the FIA not introducing this by now is “the FIA are stupid, and we fans know better!” There are certainly variables we can’t see I’m trying to see if we can dig them out.

    So why do you think the FIA hasn’t introduced this yet? Simple pig-headedness?

  12. Keith, well said. I said more or less the same in my post on the sister thread to this. The main changes that need to be made are:

    1. stewards should make decisions only once they have all available telemetry and radio transmissions (I don’t think press interviews should be admissible)
    2. race control should give definitive advice during a race as those in race control should know the rules inside and out
    3. the rules themselves shouldn’t be so vague and open to interpretation as they so clearly are
    4. they should employ a team of competent people in race control, NOT just one man; people who know the rules inside and out and can give definitive, informed advice. This advice SHOULD be used in final stewards’ decisions

    F1 administration and stewarding is a complete and utter farce – unprofessional is an understatement. It is shocking that such a multi-billion pound sport watched by so many millions around the world should have such appalling stewarding.

    It is good that Keith has made these points – ‘The Times’ F1 blog just keeps pointing the finger at Lewis.

  13. I really hope thos soap is over and let’s see ONLY on the track, who are the fastest and the more reliable.

  14. theRoswellite
    3rd April 2009, 19:24

    Keith is on-point with his comments.

    Just an additional, short, reflection. If a rule existed that any car unable to hold position in the pace car order, for whatever reason, should only rejoin the line… the end. This would have prevented the entire controversy. (If you go off the track, if your car slows for any reason…the rest of the field just continues behind the pace car.)

    This rule would have been known by Trulli and he would have simply rejoined where he could do so safely (at the rear). It would not have been up to Hamilton/McLaren to decide if they should let him pass or not. Simple.

    All of which is not an excuse for Hamilton, McLaren or the FIA in how this has all come down.

    1. Stuart Hotman
      3rd April 2009, 23:23

      This debate is trulli hamazing!

      First we had Spygate – Mclaren accused of copying ferrari’s tyre pressures. Thrown out of constructors champ. Ferrari win constructors.

      Then we had Spagate – Hamilton passes Raik, but only gave place back for one corner. 25 sec pen, handed win to Massa/ferrari after Raik spooned it off the track.

      Now we have Liegate – Hamilton disqulaified from Oz GP for telling pork pies. Ferrari didn’t get any points so why should McLaren.

      Am I missing something?

      Race results/championships should not be decided upon what someone said or didnt say. Stewards must not ask drivers their opinions, they shoud use facts. End of story.

  15. I think this once again brings F1 into a very bad light, theres so much at stake financially these days and like in top league football teams and players will do almost anything for that extra edge. I find the whole thing very disheartening and its no single persons blame but the culture of victory beyond everything and the aims of a few to cripple the enjoyment of many.

    Good luck Jenson I say

  16. how many drivers would lie if the team that paid their wages told them to do so? personally I think most would.

    Lewis should have double checked with Whitmarsh not just taken Ryan’s word for it. I mean being told to lie is a big thing, but it was taken too lightly.

    OK he made a mistake. lots of sportsmen make mistakes and do wrong things. you pay the price, you aplogise and then you move forward and focus on being a sportsman again. I still have every respect for the man. I am aware he has his share of haters. But those people hated him anyway for whatever reasons – mostly jealousy and ignorance.
    Lewis has a lot of misreporting about him in the past and people make their own biased conclusions.
    Lewis will never convince those people that he is a good man. His fans, like me, will stick firmly behind him. He has nothing to prove. he is a top driver and a genuine man.

    1. I agree with you gazzap 100%. He had his haters, he still has his haters but now with extra ammunition, and he has his fans who know what a good man and great driver he is. End of.

  17. To be honest I’m not sure race control could have settled the matter. Going by the radio conversation, Trulli felt that he was in the right to take the place back and Hamilton felt that he was entitled to keep that #3 spot.

    Although maybe with some back and forth talking they could have eventually resolved it.

    What really needs to change is the stewarding proces. FIRST they should look at (all) the evidence. At the very least they need to look at the available video footage. Only then should they talk to the people involved. Otherwise you don’t really know what to ask or to make sure the drivers know the facts.

    You can’t expect drivers to get all their facts straight. Either because they are presenting themselves as favourably as possible, bot often they just don’t know exactly who did what wrong.

    FIA also need to make the rules for overtaking more clear. Why does Bourdais get punished when Massa runs through him on Fuji 2008. Why is Kubica allowed to run Raikkonen off the track at the same race? Why is Raikkonen allowed to run Hamilton off the track at Spa 2008? Why does Vettel get punished for the accident with Kubica? Why is Barrichello allowed to cause one major incident and then also hit Raikkonen? How is this different from Vettel braking slightly late?

    It’s just not consistent. Or at least it doesn’t appear consistent to me. Is the rule really that you need to be half a meter ahead and then you can push the other driver off track?

    But then Hamilton was ahead of Raikkonen at Spa at the time they turned in. So Hamilton was ahead, but Raikkonen received no penalty. Is the position determined when they start breaking? Then Vettel was still ahead of Kubica and Kubica should be punished for touching Vettel.

  18. I agree

    Started with Hamilton trying to follow the rules, and ends with an scandal.

    Everything went wrong to Lewis. Charlie didn’t answer the questions of the team. Mclaren director’s is not able to say to Lewis that he overtook in a fair way the Toyota. For me is incredible that Lewis in the cockpit knows better the rules than a person with several years in the F1 working in the wall. FIA didn’t listen the radio records in the investigation but did it 4 days later.

    At the end he lied, but the scenario is completely unreal


  19. this is the fault of the FIA i could understand if this happened 1 time but it is every other week we dont know the result of a race till hours after. formula 1 should stop looking down on other race series and get there thumbs out there ass

  20. Politics is part of the fabric of F1 and always will be given the money invested and potential rewards… definately a thinking man’s sport – and why most of us are drawn to this awesome web site. If you want something simpler with concrete results I suggest you go to watch NASCAR / Indy etc – No, you can’t keep away. I am tired of people on this site blaming the FIA and the uncertanty of results… guys, Lewis and McLaren cheated. End of!! This has nothing to do with Ferarri.

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