F1 stewarding gets another overhaul

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

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