F1 stewarding gets another overhaul

Drivers going off-track is a typical area of dispute for stewards to rule on

Drivers going off-track is a typical area of dispute for stewards to rule on

Few things generate more heated debate on this site than decisions taken (or not taken) – by F1 race stewards.

In the last few seasons stewards’ decisions have often contradicted earlier decisions, and similar verdicts can take anything between minutes and hours to be taken.

The FIA at least seems to have recognised the system is broken and is now scrapping the role of permanent steward and bringing in experienced former drivers to improve stewarding at races. Will this finally lead to quicker and more consistent decisions?

Here’s how the FIA explains the changes:

A smaller permanent group of F1 Stewards will sit with experienced former F1 drivers to provide a permanent panel of three FIA stewards, together with one steward representing the National Sporting Authority, to deal with F1 at each Grand Prix.

There will no longer be a non-voting Chairman and each group of stewards will elect their own Chairman amongst themselves for each race. Utilising video and radio exchanges they should aim to reach decisions very efficiently.

The current observer programme for F1 stewards will continue, and training, distribution of decisions, and an annual meeting will be encouraged to raise the quality of decisions in this permanent group.

Goodbye (then hello?) to Alan Donnelly

Alan Donnelly was appointed to the role of non-voting chairman of the stewards at the beginning of 2008 and. This position is now being scrapped – but is it being done to get rid of the role or move Donnelly elsewhere?

Donnelly was a firm supporter of Max Mosley, who unhesitatingly promoted new FIA president Jean Todt as his successor. Today’s WMSC announcement also confirmed Todt’s pre-election plan of creating a Commissioner for the FIA’s different racing categories, including F1. Perhaps the man for the job will be not Mosley, but Donnelly?

Back to the matter at hand, it was under Donnelly’s direction that the stewards took some of the most hotly-contested decisions of recent years.

Not least of which was the decision to strip Lewis Hamilton of his win in the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix. Donnelly was at the heart of the controversy – he was the only one of the four stewards to ask Hamilton questions during his interview.

I’m cautiously optimistic that abolishing the non-voting Chairman role will be a change for the better. But there’s no denying F1 had its share of bad stewards’ calls before Donnelly’s time – such as the penalty given to Fernando Alonso in qualifying at Monza in 2006.

Drivers decide

Former F1 drivers will be invited to bring their experience to bear on decision-making.

In principle, this is a great idea and one that has been demanded for a long time. But its success depends on which drivers are chosen.

At the moment it isn’t clear who these might be but, as we’ve discussed here before, they will have to be carefully chosen to ensure they are sufficiently experienced and do not unduly favour one team over another.

An improvement?

It’s too early to say what kind of effect these changes will have, but come the end of next season we should have a good idea.

We’ve had similar promises of improvements in the past: last year we were told video of controversial moments would be shown on F1.com to help explain stewards’ decisions, but it never happened during 2009.

The latest changes seem to be along the right lines. But I’m not convinced they will make a significant difference unless the rules are updated to clear up common areas of dispute, such as drivers going off-track to gain an advantage, whether teams can communicate with race control following an incident, and what are the limits a driver can go to to defend their position.

Do you think the changes will improve stewarding in 2010? Have your say below.

Stewarding in F1

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33 comments on F1 stewarding gets another overhaul

  1. Prisoner Monkeys said on 11th December 2009, 21:20

    Sense!

  2. Texas F1 Fan said on 11th December 2009, 21:31

    Looks like a step in the right direction. I mean, come on! They ought to be able to make a call on a pile up within 5 minutes. Look at the replay. Take input from former drivers (such as “he had to cross the line or he would wreck”..or “he totally took advantage there”) and make the call! Make the call and administer the punishment then get on with the race! imho…:)

  3. HounslowBusGarage said on 11th December 2009, 21:41

    ‘Improve’ might not be the right word. I think they will become (or should become) more consistent, which is A Good Thing. It should put an end to some of the wierder vaguaries and inconsistencies race-to-race. At least teams might be able to predict the Stewards’ judgements with more certaintly in the future and act accordingly.
    I still think the ‘retired racing drivers’ should have full voting and executive rights on the Stewards Panel.

  4. Its a start to a new beginning of stewards. Maybe less cheating? we will see :)

  5. Mike "the bike" Schumacher said on 11th December 2009, 22:52

    Good news, but there will always be people compalinig about decisions.

  6. Sounds good. But what if the former driver is one that has a reputation in their carer of cheating? Imagine Schumacker as a steward in Monaco watching a driver with the fastest Q3 time crash/park his car just to obstruct the lap time of his rival so he secures pole position (just as Shumi did in 2006) ? Would he declare a penalty? Would their past conscience obstruct their fairness? Sort of like Claudius watching a play of his brother’s murder.

  7. manatcna said on 12th December 2009, 0:52

    Yes, the ex-driver stewards will have to be seen to be impartial.

    Apart from that, I think that it’s a step in the right direction.

    And write down all the rules so everyone knows them, and have fixed penalties.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 12th December 2009, 12:36

      And write down all the rules so everyone knows them, and have fixed penalties.

      Couldn’t agree more.

      • Difficult to disagree, but it’s much easier said than done.

        Take drivers going off track. How far off track do they have to go to earn a penalty? Should the whole car be off track and, if not, how much is acceptable and how is it defined and measured? How much do drivers have to back off to surrender any advantage gained? Should you punish drivers who unintentionally go off track, e.g. because of a loss of control? If not, how do you identify which is intentional and which isn’t? Are there any instances where it’s ok to go off track, e.g. to avoid a collision, or should all instances be punished without exception? Are all off track excursions equally bad that they should be punished equally?

        Clarity and transparency are good things in any set of rules. But there’s also room for good judgement and discretion by those charged with applying them. Tying the hands of the stewards could lead to just as many injustices as we’ve seen in the last couple of years.

  8. wasiF1 said on 12th December 2009, 1:02

    I hope the chnge works,& is praying that one of the driver be Sir Jackie Stewart.

  9. Peter said on 12th December 2009, 2:22

    good choices:
    prost, stewart, mansell, berger

    bad choices:
    schumi, hakkinen, lauda-mouth

    ugly:
    piquet jun, piquet sen

    amusing:
    raikkonen

    good-or-bad-I-don’t-know:
    villneuve

  10. theRoswellite said on 12th December 2009, 4:46

    The decisions will probably be as good, or unbiased, as the people who are selected to sit.

    Obvious problems can result if the ex-driver is perceived to be partial to his former team in some key decision, and remember we have had championships decided of late by the smallest of margins. It would seem proper to require a driver to excuse himself from any decision involving his, or one of his, ex-teams. (…Caesar’s wife and all)

    I hope I’m the only one who sees this as a problem…standing just over there in the shadows.

  11. Ninad said on 12th December 2009, 5:06

    Bernard Ecclestone is also ex- Formula 1 driver, Will he be the one doing the job??

    BTW now fans will get someone else to criticize………

  12. Max Pitbull out of Stewarding Process:
    Good News

    Ex-F1 Drivers to join Steward Teams:
    Good News

    Allowing Stewards to use TV and Sound signal for doing their Job quickly (and accurately):
    Good News

    FIA doing some changes and hearing F1 Teams:
    Good News

    It seems to me Keith you are very cautious in your comments, looking at the “half-empty part of the glass”.

    It’s Christmas time, and we would be a little bit more optimistic.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 12th December 2009, 12:40

      Well the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. If we get through 2010 without some of the silly nonsense we’ve had in the last few years we can judge it a success.

      Part of my problem is they haven’t said “we’ve not done this right so we’re going to try this.” Instead they’ve said “this is how we’re going to change things.” So it’s not clear if they have identified exactly what’s wrong with the stewarding process, apart from the need to render decisions more ‘efficiently’ (to borrow their word).

      • sato113 said on 12th December 2009, 18:10

        is it christmas pudding by any chance?

      • Part of my problem is they haven’t said “we’ve not done this right so we’re going to try this.”

        I don’t think starting a war of telling what was wrong during Mosley era could be a wise movement from Jean Tod.

        I think keep his mouth quiet and starting to change things with no much noise is much clever.

  13. S Hughes said on 12th December 2009, 8:39

    I agree that it all depends on what ex-drivers they choose. Say hypothetically, they chose Schumacher – well he’d just favour Ferrari, there’s no doubt about it. So that’s a difficult one.

    Obvious cases for a penalty should be given a verdict much quicker than is happening now – I could never understand the huge delay in meting out certain penalties during a race that are obvious to all other observers.

    And I can guarantee that if Lewis Hamilton is in any way fighting for the championship next year, there will be Spa 2008s and Japan 2008s all over again.

    Some people keep saying “forget the Spa penalty”, but it had such a huge impact on recognising unfairness and a ridiculous stewarding system in F1, that it can NEVER be forgotten. Especially as it could have had such a huge impact on deciding the 2008 title as well.

    Whatever happens, please get rid of Surinder Thatti having anything to do with F1.

  14. David said on 12th December 2009, 8:42

    Small improvement, in my opinion.
    The very best improvement would be to write down some rules and the very very best improvements would be…to avoid stewarding at all. Do we really need any phase of the race to be analyzed and followed by drive through or any kind of punishment? In my opinion the role of stewards should be less influent on the races.

  15. Good news. It still hurts, the way the stewards destoyed the 2003 world championship. Do you remember at indy, the penalized monty, for a racing incident. Shame on them.

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