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

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

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

  1. kurtosis said on 3rd April 2009, 16:43

    @ 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?

  2. S Hughes said on 3rd April 2009, 17:43

    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.

  3. Mig.Golf said on 3rd April 2009, 18:52

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

  4. theRoswellite said on 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.

    • Stuart Hotman said on 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.

  5. Bill said on 3rd April 2009, 22:01

    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

  6. gazzap said on 3rd April 2009, 22:18

    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.

    • S Hughes said on 4th April 2009, 10:53

      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.

  7. Patrickl said on 3rd April 2009, 22:29

    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.

  8. frecon said on 3rd April 2009, 22:30

    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


  9. sultryBOB said on 3rd April 2009, 22:54

    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

  10. Ozboy said on 3rd April 2009, 23:59

    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.

    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!

  12. Bernification said on 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!

  13. bwells said on 4th April 2009, 2:20

    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… :)

  14. 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.

  15. The Limit said on 4th April 2009, 13:57

    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.

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