A step forward in stewarding – so far

Webber escaped a penalty for colliding with Hamilton in Melbourne

Webber escaped a penalty for colliding with Hamilton in Melbourne

The standards of refereeing in Formula 1 has been a hotly-disputed topic in recent years after a catalogue of controversial judgements.

For the first time this year experienced racing drivers have been brought in to advise the stewards. At the same time, the role of permanent steward previously occupied by Alan Donnelly has been abolished.

On the evidence so far this seems to have coincided with a badly-needed outbreak of calm and common sense.

Relying on reprimands

Over the first four races we’ve seen the stewards avoid using the strongest punishments available to them, opting instead for reprimands. Here’s a summary of the major decisions they’ve taken so far (ignoring speeding fines and yellow flag infractions outside of the race):

Round Driver Infringement Penalty
Australia Pedro de la Rosa Impeded another driver in practice Reprimand
Australia Mark Webber Collided with Lewis Hamilton Reprimand
Malaysia Lewis Hamilton Weaving in front of Vitaly Petrov Black and white flag
Malaysia Sebastian Vettel Overtook Jarno Trulli under yellow flags None
China Fernando Alonso Jumped start Drive-through
China Lewis Hamilton Dangerous driving in pit lane Reprimand
China Sebastian Vettel Dangerous driving in pit lane Reprimand

In the case of Webber’s collision with Hamilton at Australia, this sort of thing has been penalised in the past – for example, when Heikki Kovalainen hit Webber at Spa in 2008.

Should a failed overtaking attempt that leads to a collision automatically incur a penalty? I’m not convinced it should, and if this is a new interpretation it’s one I’m entirely happy with.

Reprimands were also issued for Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s driving in the pit lane at Shanghai, which attracted a huge amount of debate.

First, let’s clear up the facts: McLaren released Hamilton only fractionally later than Red Bull let Vettel go, certainly not late enough for them to get a penalty for an ‘unsafe release’. Hamilton ended up side-by-side with Vettel because he got out of his pit box more slowly than the Red Bull driver did.

Hamilton should have eased off the throttle and let Vettel go, but he didn’t, so he got a reprimand. Vettel should not have edged Hamilton towards the (vacant) pit boxes of other teams, but he did, so he also got a reprimand.

I suggest we can only judge whether the stewards got this one right if their decision stops it happening again – because dangerous driving in the pit lane such as this clearly cannot be allowed.

Does a reprimand set a limit of what a driver can get away with? If so, then they’ve been too soft – it’s no different to giving no penalty.

But if these reprimands mean “if anyone does that again they’ll be punished”, then I think the stewards have laid down some useful markers. We shall see.

The Hamilton-Petrov incident at Sepang was discussed at length here: Drivers as stewards make presence felt as Hamilton gets black-and-white flag

Bias

It was inevitable that bringing in people with recent F1 experience to the stewards’ office was going to lead to accusations that they favour teams they used to work for and drivers they liked.

So far the drivers’ representatives have been chosen well. Alain Prost, Tom Kristensen, Johnny Herbert and Alexander Wurz cannot be accused of being short on experience (though I do wonder what Prost’s take would be one someone knocking their rival off the track to win a world championship).

Nor do they have any obvious axes to grind, or particular vested interests that should disqualify them from the job. Whereas putting someone like Keke Rosberg or Ron Dennis in the room – however knowledgeable and impartial they are – would send out the wrong message given their closeness to particular drivers and teams.

The suggestion from some quarters that Wurz might be inclined towards McLaren because he worked for them five years ago cannot be taken seriously. It’s not as if that was his last job, after all, he’s raced for Williams since then. And tellingly, no-one suggested it might be a conflict of interest before Wurz was asked to take any of his decisions (see here: Alexander Wurz joins Chinese GP stewards).

Weighed against the alternative – a return to the days of having decisions taken exclusively by people without top-line motor racing experience – the current solution is clearly preferable.

So far, so good

In recent seasons we couldn’t trust the stewards to stay out of even the most innocuous incidents, and swingeing penalties were often handed down with little rationale or consistency.

Fernando Alonso (Monza ’06), Lewis Hamilton (Spa ’08), Sebastien Bourdais (Fuji ’08) and others all received punishments that there totally out of proportion with their supposed infringements. Others got away with tactics indistinguishable from ones their rivals had been punished for.

The decision not to penalise Vettel for passing Trulli under yellow flags in Sepang is a good example of sensible stewarding. Had they dogmatically stuck to the rules, Vettel might have lost a deserved win. But they had the sense to see how much he’d slowed down by and made the right call.

It’s still early days – we’ve not yet seen how they handle a call on a driver going off-track and gaining an advantage – an area which has seen many dubious and controversial calls. And it remains to be seen whether some of these ‘reprimands’ will be open to abuse in the future. But I’m optimistic that F1 is heading in the right direction.

Do you think the standard of stewarding has improved in F1 this year? Have your say in the comments.

Stewarding in F1

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131 comments on A step forward in stewarding – so far

  1. rachel said on 21st April 2010, 20:11

    Alonso should have been given a reprimand too for his “overtake” of Massa.

    • Cacarella said on 21st April 2010, 20:26

      If by ‘Reprimand’ you mean that he should have been given a ‘high five’ and a ‘Thumbs up’ then I completely agree. ;)

      • kowalsky said on 22nd April 2010, 19:26

        i agree. Don’t give any wrong ideas to the stewards. Didn’t we want to encourage overtaking. And then some people want to punish them for doing it. I don’t understand anything.

    • Jarred Walmsley said on 21st April 2010, 20:29

      Why?, it was a perfectly legal manuevure, it’s Massa’s fault for not being aware enough

    • sato113 said on 22nd April 2010, 1:06

      no, massa was slow out of the hairpin, so alonso’s not going to slow down and wait for massa is he?

      • Besides, Alonso has had to sit behind Massa for the last few races staring at his rear diffuser, unable to pass because of varying reasons. And look what happened once he got past – remind me again of how far down the order Massa finished? I don’t blame Alonso for a second for seizing the opportunity to pass when it presented itself to him.

  2. Im really happy with the new approach, the drivers now know not to do similar things again, at least drivers are fee to race and show determinaton not like in the past. Well done stewards i say.

  3. I’m of the opinion that some of the decisions taken this year have been a bit too lenient.

    Let’s assume that the black and white flag for Hamilton weaving in front of Petrov was an appropriate reaction. Even if that were the case, surely the Chinese GP was ample evidence that he has not “learned his lesson” about dangerous driving? The pit incident with Vettel we have talked about, but Hamilton also drove across the gravel, effectively the wrong way around the track, to enter the pits during that race. We have heard plenty about how useless the outboard mirrors in F1 are – so how did Hamilton know no one was coming up the pit lane? What if they had been? It was a dangerous move and, placed in the context of his indiscretions in Malaysia, should have been punished.

    As for Button, I can see the argument that he didn’t drive erratically. But, as we know, once the SC lights are switched off, the leading driver “becomes the safety car” and has the responsibility of leading the field round. When someone has to take avoiding action by leaving the track (as Hamilton had to), I would suggest that the leader isn’t doing his job properly. Maybe a punishment would have been too severe, but a warning (and an indication to everyone else that repeat behaviour would be punished) would have been nice. As it was, that incident wasn’t even investigated.

    On Wurz, I’m willing to accept that he was fair and balanced in his advice to the stewards. But what if, for example, Jean Alesi was in his position and the stewards were subsequently seen to be lenient on Ferrari? We’d never hear the end of it.

    • Icthyes said on 22nd April 2010, 2:29

      I think Alesi would be the least reason for anyone to be crying bias.

      And of course, your argument that “Lewis hasn’t learned his lesson” rests upon the assumption that he was wholly to blame for what happened in China. Certainly Vettel was more in control of the situation, and if Hamilton had slowed, with his wheels overlapping Vettel’s as they were, and caused a crash, you would be raving about that.

      Given that Vettel did exactly the same to Alonso two years ago, why are you not saying the same of Vettel, who clearly has learned his lesson less than Hamilton in this respect?

      With the Button “incident”, one could easily argue it was Rosberg’s fault for not paying enough attention. After all, Button slowed; it was Rosberg who braked hard. And as Button was the lead driver, Rosberg had to follow his pace, so long as Button did nothing erratic, which he didn’t.

      Also, unless a driver is clearly going in the opposite direction of the track, direction changes like Hamilton’s are legal. Given that he was heading towards the pit-lane, he was even technically going in the right direction, re-joining the track so to speak; it just so happens that the direction of the main track and the pit-lane entrance differ by 90 degrees in China. How could he be sure there was no-one coming? I’m sure Hamilton wouldn’t have wanted to end his race in a crash. Given the direction he was travelling, he would have been able to see any other cars in his line of vision anyway.

      So that’s the other side of the argument, and if I’m glad the stewards took it it’s more to do with the fact it’s less cut-and-dried than the other than because of who’s involved, before that becomes an issue.

    • Hamilton was given a warning for weaving in Malaysia and as far as I know he didn’t weave in China so he did learn his lesson.

      As has been pointed out Vettel went wheel to wheel with Alonso in 2008 in the pit lane so drivers probably thought that was okay.

      As for Hamilton going across the gravel considering the track conditions the stewards may have decided to give drivers some leeway, and by the way McLaren did not use outboard mirrors in China.

  4. people new to f1 this year will be wondering “what is all the fuss about these stewards, they see to be running on common sense” well it was not always this way and let me tell you that the ammount of sunday afternoons they have bloody runined over the past few years would firmly make you turn over and watch hours of a repeated manchester soap……lastly welcome to f1 and thank you common sense.

  5. We should have yellow and red cards, first a Reprimand, repetition of a violation of the rules gets you a drive through, and a third one a dnf !
    Then guys would be really nice to each other!

    • kowalsky said on 22nd April 2010, 19:29

      be we don’t want them to be nice to each other. We want them to race hard, with a knife between their teeth. We are having fun now, please don’t change anything.

  6. David Johnson said on 21st April 2010, 21:35

    Love the new stewarding !! I want to see hard and fair racing…I’d watch rallying if I wished to watch fast time trialling…we get overtaking and we start moaning about it….crazy… of course reprimands for dangerous driving…but let them race !!! If we had nanny state stewarding Rosberg would have surely been penalised for double move preventing Hamiliton passing…but thankfully he got to show his jangle bells…and that’s how it should be.

    • DASMAN said on 21st April 2010, 22:09

      Naa – the Rosberg move looked ok to me as you are allowed to defend(move)once, and then are allowed to move back toward the racing line in order to take the corner.

      The Massa incident in Aus was similar, altho I think we cut to the onboard as Massa was moving back to take the racing line into the left hander which made it look worse.

      Effectively you are allowed 2 moves – once to defend and another to take the racing line thru the corner.

      I think the stewards got it spot on this last weekend, but do wonder what these reprimands will mean for the rest of the season.

      Also, while I think Lewis is hugely entertaining, altho I’m not a fan – why does he keep putting himself in these situations? Makes good viewing tho.

      • DASMAN said on 21st April 2010, 22:16

        Hmmm – just watched the Vettel/Hamilton incident again. Martin Brundle has a point, it was dangerous and does set a precedent. Could have warrented a penalty for both.

        • Patrickl said on 21st April 2010, 22:30

          I don’t think what Vettel did was more dangerous than the way Schumacher pushed Hamilton off the track on the “straight”.

  7. Patrickl said on 21st April 2010, 22:28

    Massa got a reprimand for driving next to Sutil in Valencia 2008. But then Massa came dangerously close to the Safety car at the end of the pitlane.

    So if anything, these reprimands mean nothing.

    On the other hand Vettel got no reprimand and no penalty for driving side by side with Alonso in the fastlane during the German 2008 GP.

    So, I don’t think Hamilton got his reprimand for driving side by side with Vettel. The explanation that Autosport gave after talking to the stewards was that Hamilton got his penalty for going too much sideways with a competitor close on one side and a crew on the other side of him. That makes much more sense.

    Besides, if they want something penalized, they need to change the rules. Preferably publicly and ahead of the race and not afterwards like in Spa ’08.

    What I don’t understand is how Vettel got away with holding up the field behind the safety car for a good 10 seconds.

    People complain about Button slowing down a little, but Vettel clearly violating the 10 car lengths rule draws no complaints?

  8. Edinfreak said on 21st April 2010, 22:36

    Just like to know what any of you would have done if you are in the place of Hamilton in the car? Your team releases you, you are racing other drivers, you came into the pits infront of Vettel and generally expect to be ahead of him when they realease you, dont know where Vettel is as his box is behind Mclarens, and when you join you find yourself side by side, wheels skewed with the Vetel’s Red Bull, cannot pull the your car towards other pits as they are for other teams, cannot slow down either as you are skewed? So WHAT would you do? Remember you are also racing at the same time!

  9. f1yankee said on 21st April 2010, 22:47

    i don’t think any of the penalties so far have been coming from the stewards. herbert said the weaving penalty came from charlie, and obviously so did the jump start. if these reprimands are indeed “do it again and get a proper penalty” then i think that’s a good call.

    the fia has swung from too harsh to too soft, and either way they can’t win as long as people are talking about the officials and not the sport. jean todt’s approval rating is strong, although i can’t tell you just what he’s done.

  10. As a longstanding F1 fan I welcome this approach.

    I find the over-regulation of pit situations particularly frustrating, especially the unsafe release rule. Cars are travelling at 80 km/h so there is no risk to the drivers. OK there is some danger to the mechanics but… they can also get hit by their own driver coming into the pits, were exposed to fires for many years, etc., so it’s acceptable risk. Finally I struggle to see how what Alonso or Hamilton did on the pit lane entrance can be qualified as unreasonably dangerous. An F1 race needs sources of excitement, and over-regulating things can just kill those. Just look at how exciting pit stops are in Indycars. Yes, they sometimes crash against one another but that’s just racing.

  11. kowalsky said on 21st April 2010, 23:15

    they are doing a good job now. Let the boys race.

  12. I think the step of involving experienced (former) racing drivers in the decision-making process is a good decision. One of the problems of race stewarding under the old conditions was the lack of actual hands-on racing experience in judging an incident.

    However, another important thing about stewarding in the (recent) past were the kinds of inconsistencies that arose from different trios at work at different events. In my opinion, involving a racing driver as the fourth man hasn’t eliminated the potential for this kind of stuff. It remains to be seen whether they manage to come up with the same response to the same behaviour or “type” of incident over time.

    I’m weary when it comes to the “reprimands” they’ve handed out a couple of times now, actually, because there seems to be no predictable limit in place for that. Especially in terms of the pitlane shuffle between Hamilton and Vettel, I personally thought it was too soft a decision. That kind of driving in a safety area like the pit lane doesn’t only become dangerous if you were to actually do it a second time.

    Optimally, I would favour a much tighter and more detailed definition of what kinds of penalties will follow this and that behaviour on the track – opposite to the traditional and still current way of every penalty for an incident being, essentially, at the stewards’ discretion.

  13. Rob said on 22nd April 2010, 0:25

    I’m more concerned with the Pit entry. Vettel was first in the entrance to the pit lane (the place the pit entry starts going stright on from the last corner), Hamilton came up on his left had side and took the inside corner for position, similar to what Alonso did to Massa. Why when you leave the pits can you not go over the unbroken line but when you enter the pits it doesn’t matter, why? Surley the first car that enters the pit lane is first and the other drivers have to yield.

    Why wasn’t Button reprimanded for slowing too much at the end of the long straight when the saefty car returned to the pits and turning the second last conrer into a car park – we had several rows 3-4 cars wide, how can you ensure you keep your position across the start finish line?

    And from that why wasn’t Vettel reprimanded for pushing Hamilton into Webber resulting in Webber losing a handful of positions?

    • Patrickl said on 22nd April 2010, 9:58

      “Vettel was first in the entrance to the pit lane (the place the pit entry starts going stright on from the last corner), Hamilton came up on his left had side and took the inside corner for position”

      Vettel was trying to overtake Hamilton, but Hamilton was still in front. Hamilton did brake a bit more before they entered the pit entry lane though.

      Still, at the braking point Hamilton was ahead. So he had the right to the race line.

  14. Rubbish Dave said on 22nd April 2010, 1:14

    I’m generally happy with the stewarding. It’s a case of if something off happens, then all drivers are given a warning and a new understanding of a rule is essentially put in by reprimands and in the drivers briefing rather than basically making up a rule and acting on it.

    As I’ve pointed out, none of what happened in China is without precendent for it not being punished. So 1st change the rule, then punish transgressions. Not the other way round. That’s what they got wrong in Spa 2008.

    Buttons slowing down had shades of Hamilton in fuji 2007, so while I may have thought what he did was remarkably stupid, it’d be wrong to punish him. My (possibly misinformed) understanding is that the stewards had words with him afterwards, and the drivers will be aware that they need to keep a reasonable pace under the safety car in future.

    • I guess that is fair enough if the stewards spoke with Button afterwards – although the rule re bunching up behind the SC is a pretty hard & fast rule.

      On the whole, I am pretty happy with the stewarding this year. I much prefer that they let the guys race, and only punish clear infractions of the rules, overt moves, dangerous or deliberate moves, or repeat offenders. And if no race results are altered after the fact (which is my pet hate), I imagine I’ll remain fairly satisfied with the level of Stewarding over the season.

  15. Johnny86 said on 22nd April 2010, 1:32

    The whole point of giving reprimand is to warn drivers not to commit THE SAME mistakes…hence the drivers can commit different mistakes and get away…that aspect should be taken care of…

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