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. The drivers chosen for this need to have had recent F1 experience. The main reason for having divers as part of this process is that they know what it’s like to drive modern F1 cars on modern circuits. Much as I admire the likes of Stewart, Lauda, and Prost, none has started a Grand Prix for nearly two decades.

    You also need someone who’s articulate and intelligent enough to see the wider consequences of stewarding decisions – what’s Anthony Davidson doing in 2010?

    • S Hughes said on 12th December 2009, 10:30

      Anthony Davidson would be dreadful. His views expressed on the BBC are often stupid.

    • Will he still be employed by brawn/mercedes in 2010? In which case he cant possibly chosen can he? Same goes with Schumi for me, they cant ask him to be a steward if he is employed by Ferrari if they want unbiased desicions.

      I agree with your time out of the cockpit statement though so i thought maybe DC would be a good choice but he is still with Red Bull isnt he? Struggling to think of too many recent drivers to be hounest. Rubio after he has retired has to be a good one.

      • I agree that drivers still employed the way DC is should be ineligible for the role…

        OR

        perhaps of a panel of say 5 drivers, only 2 give their input on any one incident. Gives them some capacity to avoid bias from a particular ex-driver if the incident affects a team they have a current or past association with

  2. Bigbadderboom said on 12th December 2009, 11:00

    Although I applaud the fact that ex-drivers are involved in the decision making I don’t believe that will bring about any more clarity to the stewarding decisions. The main cause of upset and debate on this site is always regarding consistancy and transparency, and we will only get this through validation and clear rules. There is still too much that is open to interpretation and application of the rules. We simply need a better rule book in clearer language which will make their application simpler.
    Much of the decisions are debated when a precedent has been set, and previous transgressions have been unpunished and then similar actions later apparently punished disproportionatley. F1 needs a new set of rules, with clear consequences for those that break them. This way there would be no precedents and the new rules could be followed to the letter.
    If Donnelly is gone, the that is good news………but you know what they say about bad pennies turning up!!!

  3. One decision or another, there’s always people claiming about it. For me, just counts if the decision is fair or unfair.

  4. Hopefully this will just be a first step in improving stewarding and making the rules clearer.

    I have always thought the role of the non-voting chairman of the stewards seemed a bit odd, Donnelly seemed to ask the questions and direct the stewards but didn’t vote himself.

    Regardless of if you thought Hamilton should have been punished at Spa 2008, I think one of the worst aspects was the appeal, the FIA said that type of punishment could not be appealed but only after everyone turned up and presented their cases at the appeal.

    Hamilton and McLaren lying in Australia this year showed up some problems with the stewards, such as the fact they just took Hamilton’s word over Trulli’s and didn’t check the team radios that were supposed to be available to them before punishing Trulli. Also the fact that it seemed no minutes or recordings are taken of stewards meetings and interviews with teams and drivers, or even a signed statement from the drivers.

    Things that I would like to see would be more consistency, someone please correct me if my memory is faulty, but after Webber was investigated and punished during the German Gran Prix for an incident on the first lap, at the next Grand Prix in Hungary the stewards decided not to investigate an incident Raikkonen had on the first lap until after the race.

    Whether the incidents themselves deserved any penalties are matters of judgement, I remember at the time thinking that neither driver should get punished, but it would have been nice if we could have received an explanation why the change in when to investigate a first lap incident.

    But before Hamilton received a penalty for a first lap incident in Japan 2008 I can’t remember such a thing being punished before yet no reason was given why the change in policy.

    Another thing I would like to see change is teams being able to talk to race control during the Grand Prix to check things such as should a driver give a position back.

  5. The Limit said on 12th December 2009, 14:24

    I think this is nothing but an empty promise, until we see something concrete come of this during grands prix, it is nothing short of window dressing. The one thing no one can account for, however, is that you are never going to have an official who is completely unbiased.
    We see this is football, and other forms of motorsports, i.e Montoya’s Indy penalty in NASCAR is a good example.
    The real problem for me, and many others, is the length of time it takes F1 officials to make a decision to penalise a driver. The events of Spa 2008 were the classic example of F1 making a complete hash of itself infront of the world’s media. As with Indy 2005, the sport found itself in the news for all the wrong reasons.
    Never, ever again, should an F1 race be decided ‘HOURS’ after the event has finished and the fans have gone home. This is not an Iranian election, it is the world pinacle of motorsports!

  6. A, “smaller permanent group of stewards.” This sounds logical. I was led to believe, though, that the former F1 drivers putting in their input would not be permanent. I understand that it may be difficult to employ a permanent group of former F1 drivers to sit on the stewards board, but these guys will be like a “guest” advisor in other words? OK, lets say that Piquet Sr. is a guest advisor? hahaha There is probably more than one former driver that has an ax to grind! Just having fun. This does seem like a step in the right direction.

  7. Icthyes said on 12th December 2009, 22:46

    Step in the right direction, but I agree with Keith, we need better clarification of rules (currently, cutting a chicane at the Bus Stop is frowned upon, but taking a faster line through La Source isn’t, even though it breaks the same rule)

  8. bwells said on 13th December 2009, 20:56

    I think this is great news.. and having clear precise rules that everyone can follow is another great suggestion.. using former F1 drivers is a great idea and keeping one set of stewards is something that needed to happen.. how can you possibly have continuity in the decisions when you always have different people making the decisions?

    I can’t imagine there being a problem with a drivers being bias towards an ex team in a decision because you couldn’t hide behind anything… any decision you make would be public knowledge.. if they do make the decision process transparent it would be impossible to get up to any shinaginans.. should be a step in teh right direction..

  9. DGR-F1 said on 14th December 2009, 13:29

    I think it would be more useful if the Stewards had better training, which I see is mentioned by the FIA, and if all the unwritten rules were written down and agreed on (as manatcna points out), otherwise no matter which Stewards are present, which ex-drivers are present, and who is the Chairman, there will still not be an consistancy between races and incidents.
    Also, much more should be made of the replays and telementary information in the decision making, and above all it should be a fast decision, an instant on-track penalty and get on with the racing…..
    And remembering the last few years, it might help if the Stewards paid attention when the teams make a decision too (like handing back places taken in error). I often have the feeling that the Stewards never actually watch the race, and don’t talk to the teams unless they really need to….

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