A step forward in stewarding – so far

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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


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

131 comments on “A step forward in stewarding – so far”

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  1. David Johnson
    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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

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

  2. 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?

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

    1. “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.

  9. Rubbish Dave
    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.

    1. 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.

  10. 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…

  11. There were 3 incidents that were not even looked at that I thought warranted penalties on the weekend – 2 of Hamilton’s pit entries and 1 of Alonso’s.
    When Hamilton pitted for inters he had driven PAST the pit lane and had to cut back across the run off area. He caught the edge of the gravel trap, but had this been 10 years ago he would have got beached trying the same stunt. Thats wortha look at, even if not a drive through.

    Alonso and Hamilton both overtook outside of the circuit (outside of the white lines on the pit entrance). And should have had to give the positions back, or face a penalty.

    1. Your right plushpile, crossing the line seperating the pit entry and the track in any direction is prohibited by APPENDIX L TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPORTING CODE Chapter IV 4.d. See my reply to Rampante on the previous page.

    2. I don’t have any problem with how Alonso overtook Massa, but Hamilton was already ahead of Vettel and it was Vettel who was attempting an overtake entering the pits not Hamilton.

      Regarding Hamilton’s first pit stop given the track conditions the stewards may have been more lenient than usual when he went across the gravel. Genuine question, has anyone else being penalised for entering the pits like that?

  12. I agree with the stewarding 100% too to date, but I would now concentrate on repeat behaviours both of the individuals & copycats – how many reprimands on different “iffy” rules for one driver? What happens to a copy cat if each rule isn’t tightened (consistent reprimand or inconsistent penalty)?

    And as for the pit incidents where entry lanes (and exits in Kubica’s case) aren’t built for racing and an incident could red flag an event or competing side by side down the fast lane where crews are obviously put in increased and unnecessary danger? Well are the precedents enough to see an end to this? Is there some argument that these practices could be sustained on a “who dares wins basis”?

    Obviously drivers have been studying rule loopholes to get around being less able to pass on track, the list could be endless and it could all end in tears.

  13. Let them race! That’s it! May the best man win!

  14. I don’t agree with this idea of adding up reprimands, Each incident should be reviewed ignoring the drivers past actions, otherwise favouritism is an inevitable argument. (BTW I’m not a Hamilton fan.)

    If you base treatment on what has happened in the passed, you may end you next race with a situation of Schumacher taking a shortcut, and Hamilton following him, and only Hamilton getting penalised with a drive though whereas Schumacher would get a reprimand. (then we would argue)

    Pit lane incidents should have zero tolerance, or less than that, and the view from the drivers should be, don’t do it. Safety in the pit lane or for spectators is greater than the place they are contesting. or rather, that’s how it should be.

    These driver stewards also seem to have very little say, I mean, they have no vote, and I’d be interested if anyone had evidence to suggest they had actually made an impact so far.

    I suspect the stewards new laxness has more to do with last years criticisms.

    1. Your argument does not make a lot of sense. Not giving position back after gaining one by going through a chicane is punished with a drivetrhough. That would be for both drivers, but only when they get in front of another driver goin on track.

      The “stacking” of reprimands should work however as a factor in deciding actions of drivers.
      I.e. a driver getting allready 3-4 reprimands for his drivering might be punished just a little bit earlier and harsher than another, because he has shown, that he is a hard learner.
      The same principle is generally applied in normal law and i think rightly so.

      You are right though, that unsafe driving in the pit lane could have serious consequences. If there would have been other cars in, i suppose the Stewards would have punished Lewis and Seb for dangerous driving.

  15. Let’s hope the ex-driver stewards should not be lenient to the drivers and to their former teams.

  16. I don’t think the race stewards have become more lenient. I think the ex-F1 drivers are providing valuable inputs in the races we’ve seen this year. I thought the race stewards made the right calls on the incidents we saw during the Shanghai race. The weather, hence visibility, was definitely a factor.

    All the drivers were doing their utmost to stay out of trouble throughout the race and I think the race stewards appreciated the great job everyone did on the track and in the pitlane.

    I personally thought the Hamilton-Vettel incident in the pit was not bad enough to warrant any punishment. Visibility was an issue. Also, there is no black-and-white rule of running side by side on the pitlane (though it should be avoided). Indycars do it sometimes.

    I personally think the most dangerous incident was at the end of the final safety car stint. Button should not have slowed right down during the final safety car period. His action nearly caused a pile-up. Hamilton had to go onto the grass to avoid hitting someone. Vettel lost out because Webber squeezed Hamilton to the right towards Vettel and he had nowhere to go and Vettel had to go off-track.

    It was a great race.

  17. Mike, I would not advocate former reprimands being used as any basis in the decision as to whether a current breach or indiscretion has been committed ….

    but it must be used in sentencing otherwise reprimands cannot be effective.

    So if he is up for another reprimand and he has had them before he should be penalised, and that should at a certain point take into account anything he has chosen to ignore from previous reprimands. That would include breach shopping at another end of the rulebook ore in other words you can’t just keep saying that every indiscretion is an island on each individual rule.

    I would say Hamilton is already dancing on that edge now.

    Evenso (and being a Webber supporter) I would imagine that the getting aero unloaded excuse would not wash for him either even though he is 1 reprimand to Hamilton’s 2 so such offences should still be judged relatively to past misdemenours.

    Otherwise I agree.

    1. “I would not advocate former reprimands being used as any basis in the decision as to whether a current breach or indiscretion has been committed ….

      but it must be used in sentencing otherwise reprimands cannot be effective.”

      Very well said.
      I don’t think I explained what I meant well, and it was mostly and over reaction (on my part) of some things others had said. ^^

  18. AB you’ve got your Vettel’s and Webbers back the front. No doubt Hamilton went wheels into Webber for advantage because he could have lifted and wasn’t banging wheels with Vettel near the point of impact. Vettel’s excuse was Button’s surprise, but that was same as the Hamilton’s surprise pulled on 3rd placed Vettel in Japan 2 years ago so he maybe needs to be more alert.

    Button should have at least been reprimanded because it was dangerous brake testing that is stupid just ahead of release when everyone is squeezing up.

    For Hamilton I reckon it was close but being a neat play on the safety car release rule and into the fuzzy issue of when wheel banging remains OK in free racing he gets away with it (as long as he remembers it can come back too).

  19. Jonesracing82
    22nd April 2010, 8:23

    i think it’s much better, we all want more overtaking etc and not giving a penalty for a driver having a go and making an error, and taking the other guy out is much better! the way it’s been in the past, it wasnt worth even attempting a move. a big thumbs up!
    P.S so long as it stays consistant there can;t be any complaints…

  20. I am so pleased with the stewarding this year. Alonso’s jump start was the only obvious inexcusable infringement of the rules and was thus rightly punished. All the others were questionable in the heat of battle, and reprimands/warnings were definitely the right and sensible reactions.

    Unfortunately, whenever Lewis Hamilton is involved in one of these incidents, the racists and haters see red and will swell the comments with their unreasonable bile. It will ever be so.

    1. Indeed. I went back to look how people were fuming and crying about life threatening situations over Vettel’s side by side pitlane antics in the German 2008 GP. There is nothing. Basically only praise for Vettel that he outsmarted/outraced Alonso.


      There was actually one remark from verasaki that was incredibly on the mark:
      “ook at what happened to alonso on the way out of the pit. a really strict adherence to the rules book if hamilton were in his place might have cost a win. what actually are the rules about being forced over the blend line, anyway?”

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