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. I feel Button should have been given atleast a reprimand for his driving under the safety car. Turning a blind eye to that incident is going too much on the lenient side, IMO.

    Button slowed down so much that Hamilton had to go off-track and lose positions.

    And when he charged back to regain his old place, Webber unfortunately had to go off-track and lose positions at the final corner.

    That incident was totally ignored, not even a reprimand being given to Button or Hamilton.

    The lead car dictates pace, fine, but if it forces other cars to go off-track just before the restart, dirty tactics I say

    1. Webber was pushed off by Hamilton going wide, who was pushed wide by Vettel.

      Why blame Hamilton for the incident?

      1. I blame Button for it, not Hamilton, didn’t you read my post?

        Button does not deserve a drive through or a grid penalty. But he does deserve he reprimand.

        1. Button was neither to blame

  2. I have to say I think the stewarding has improved a lot so far this season compared with recent years and hopefully the stewards will continue in a similar approach.

    The issue most seem to have is what exactly is a reprimand, a warning to that driver if he does that particular thing again he will be punished, a warning to that driver if he does anything naughty again he will be punished or a warning to all the drivers that if anyone makes that sort of move they will be punished.

    I believe Charlie Whiting made the decision on Hamilton weaving in Malaysia and then at the next race didn’t the drivers get together to clarify the rules and say if anyone does that sort of thing again they should be punished.

    I think when a reprimand is issued it should also come with a clarification as to what happens if that sort of incident occurs again.

    For example, personally I would like the rules changed or the stewards to come out and say that if drivers try to race in the pit lane, the section where the speed limit is in force, then they will be punished. Not a case where every driver gets a reprimand then a penalty the next time they do it.

    On the other hand you could have a reprimand be like a yellow card for that driver. So when the reprimand is issued the stewards will say if that driver does something similar in the next x number of races they will receive a penalty.

    Something I would like to see is if stewards decide that something deserves a penalty when it didn’t previously, they announce it before the race, for example when Hamilton was punished for forcing Raikkonen off the track at the 2008 Japanese GP I thought it was a normal first corner incident and I couldn’t remember when a first corner incident had been punished before.

    As for allegation of bias by the driver on the steward’s panel, everyone could be accused of bias, not just the former drivers, after all the FIA, Mosley and Donnelly have all been accused of a Ferrari bias.

    It is only more obvious with drivers because we know who they drove for and who they are friends or enemies with because they are in the public eye.

    We all like some teams/drivers more than others to a certain degree, but hopefully whoever is picked as a steward, be it a former driver or not, they will be able to put aside any bias and judge the incident in question on its own merits.

    By the way does anyone know if how stewards interview drivers has changed, because after what happened with Hamilton lying in Australia 2009 it seemed the stewards didn’t record the interview or get Hamilton to sign a statement of what happened.

  3. Yes, yes, yes. This is vastly better than before. Let the boys race, step in only when you really have to.

    We’ve become so conditioned to expecting penalties for every transgression, every vaguely borderline case, that it seems incongrous when drivers lean on each other and nothing happens. This is racing.

    We also complain bitterly when we see boring races without passing. One element of this is drivers who see only downsides to making a passing attempt, so much so that the points structure gets fiddled with to try to provide incentives to push, and Bernie wants a system where the WDC is he who wins the most races. Everyone agrees we want faster drivers to attempt the pass instead of sitting dutifully in a procession, but then when drivers dispute the same piece of road half of us still complain because the beneficiary doesn’t happen to be someone we like.

    I want to send a resounding message to the governing body. Of course there’s a line where somebody does something really unfair and you have to step in, but 2006-2008 was a carbunkle on the sport (actually much of the preceding decade or more were) and this is emphatically closer to what we want to see.

  4. I can not agree with this one Keith.
    Bringing professional drivers to the panel sounds like a great idea but the problem remains: uncertainty.
    We still don’t know why one issues are solved during the race and some others later on. We don’t know why some issues are not even mentioned (Button and the SC was really risky). Finaly, at this point no one knows what is the logic behind warnings and reprimends. Are they cumulative by driver? A general warning for all pilots?? The grey areas remain and this is certainly not good for F1.

  5. I think it’s pretty simple, the stewarding has become more consistant like we all wanted. regarding reprimands and penalties etc, i think the stewards are making decisions that they see fit at the time of the inncedent regardless of past behaviour, they’re keeping it simple, every driver and every team starts with a clean slate at the start of every race weekend, all behaviour that needs punishment i believe will be punished. Look on the bright side we’re getting the exciting racing we all wanted!

  6. This article should be called “a step forward in favoring Lewis Hamilton”.

    Reprimanding someone like him is anything but moving forward.

  7. I concur. So far I think the stewards have got it right…

  8. So we got three new decisions in Spain.

    – Alonso/Rosberg incident in qualifying: Ferrari fined 20000 dollars.

    – Buemi rejoined the track dangerously ahead of Trulli: drive through

    – Alguersuari chopped ahead of Chandhok: drive through

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