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”

    If Mclaren “instructed” Lewis Hamilton to lie and put him in this situation….will he be looking to leave Mclaren?

    I wouldnt want to work for a team that put me in the proverbial muck!

  2. Bernification
    4th April 2009, 2:17

    Just a question. I don’t know if you have the answer Keith, or anyone.

    I was under the impression that investigations only took place if someone complained.

    If that is true, Toyota withdrew their formal complaint, so why was this whole thing investigated further?

    I’m probably wrong, but I’m asking for clarification!

  3. Hey all… a little late for this one but what I’ve been wondering about… with all the stewards decisions why they would let Ruben’s drive around like it’s a “hit to pass” race event… I mean look at the penalty to Vettel for simply a race incident..
    it doesn’t make sense… :)

  4. Keith = nail on head.

    Whole sorry mess was created by incompetent Stewards and a rulebook with too many grey areas, and an interfering governing body that is well, useless is the nicest way I can put it.

  5. The only way I can see this ruling being reversed is if a championship is won due to it, and the public outcry afterwards is big enough. I don’t think nobody agrees with Max Mosley’s stance on this issue.
    Race Control could, and should, have handled this minor problem far better than they did. It is conveniant to suggest that this predicament Hamilton and McLaren found themselves in was self inflicted, as it diverts blame away from Race Control and the FIA.
    Your article sums it up. Race Control should be more open for the teams to ask questions during a race, and Race Control should ‘order’ teams to change positions inherited through wrong doing straight away.
    In this modern age, with cameras on the majority of cars involved, there simply is no excuse. McLaren and Hamilton were wrong, and were caught and punished. That, however, does not hide the inept way inwhich this scandal and that of Spa 2008 were handled.
    If we get a driver, who wins a title, celebrates it on the podium, only to lose it a week later, then this sport’s image maybe damaged beyond any repair.

  6. I’m sure the FIA would be happier without that British kid on the grid… perhaps this is just the kind of excuse they have been waiting for to kick him out once and for all!

    (I really hope that isn’t the case!)

  7. Dave the Rave
    5th April 2009, 0:16

    I guess that in an “innocent” way all the drivers lie.
    Just look at any coming together ! Both drivers usually declare that it was the others fault……….”he forced me off” etc., etc.

  8. Can you label what Toyota did with their flexi-wings as attempting to mis-lead the stewards too?

  9. It appears that the FIA can interpret the regulations in different ways, depending on the outcome they wish to create – that’s why there are so many ‘grey’ areas in the regulations. Their rulings produce controversy, which is exactly what they want. As the saying goes – ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity’!

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