The FIA’s badly-written rules leave Formula 1 looking stupid once again

The rules made Schumacher's punishment inevitable - and excessively harsh

The rules made Schumacher's punishment inevitable - and excessively harsh

It’s not hard to see why so many people are screaming ‘foul’ over Michael Schumacher being stripped of sixth place in the Monaco Grand Prix.

At the end of a processional race Schumacher’s pass on Alonso was, at first glance, a smart of piece opportunism – not unlike the one pulled off on the last lap at Monaco five years ago.

But those feeling frustrated with today’s outcome should direct their frustration not at the FIA’s stewards, but the confusing and contradictory rules they have to enforce.

Why Schumacher got a penalty

Here’s the stewards’ explanation for Schumacher’s penalty:

The overtaking manoeuvre was in breach of Article 40.13 of the 2010 F1 Sporting Regulations, the Stewards decided to impose a drive through penalty but, as it occurred during the last five laps, 20 seconds will be added to the elapsed race time of car Nr 3.

And here’s the relevant part of the rules:

40.13: If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.

The same rule was in effect last year (article 40.14 in the 2009 F1 Sporting Regulations).

What has changed since then is the creation of a safety car line – the point after which drivers may overtake when the race is re-started. Mercedes believed the race was being restarted at the safety car line.

How Mercedes got it wrong

Here’s Ross Brawn’s explanation for why Schumacher continued racing:

With regard to the penalty given to Michael, we believed that the track had gone green and the race was not finishing under a safety car when article 40.13 clearly would have applied.

The reason for the safety car had been removed, the FIA had announced ‘Safety Car in this lap’ early on lap 78 and the track had been declared clear by race control. This was further endorsed when the marshals showed green flags and lights after safety car line one. On previous occasions when it has been necessary to complete a race under a safety car, full course yellows are maintained, as in Melbourne 2009.

On the last lap, we therefore advised our drivers that they should race to the line and Michael made his move on Fernando for sixth place. We have appealed the decision of the stewards.
Ross Brawn

Brawn’s reasoning is persuasive but if his interpretation of the rules were correct we would have the strange situation where drivers were allowed to race from the safety car line to the finishing line. That scenario seems to be what article 40.13 was written to prevent.

It’s hardly surprising other teams were of the opinion that it would not be allowed. McLaren quite clearly told Lewis Hamilton:

Lewis this is the last lap of the race we?ll be finishing behind the safety car. No overtaking.
McLaren team radio

Hamilton saw Schumacher passing Alonso in his mirrors and registered his surprise:

I thought you said we couldn’t pass after safety car? Michael passed Fernando.
Lewis Hamilton

If cars are not supposed to be racing at this point one might reasonably ask why green flags were being waved. The regulations say:

As the safety car is approaching the pit entry the yellow flags and SC boards will be withdrawn and replaced by waved green flags with green lights at the Line. These will be displayed until the last car crosses the Line.

However the green flags visible when Schumacher passed Alonso were before the finishing line. This makes Mercedes’ confusion rather more understandable.

The penalty

The rules are clear when it comes to what sort of penalty the stewards can give:

16.3: The stewards may impose any one of three penalties on any driver involved in an Incident:
a) A drive-through penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane and re-join the race without stopping;
b) A ten second time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop at his pit for at least ten seconds
and then re-join the race.
c) A drop of any number of grid positions at the driver?s next Event.

However, should either of the penalties under a) and b) above be imposed during the last five laps, or after the end of a race, Article 16.4b) below will not apply and 20 seconds will be added to the elapsed race time of the driver concerned in the case of a) above and 30 seconds in the case of b).

Having found Schumacher at fault, they couldn’t let him go unpunished. But, as with Lewis Hamilton at Spa in 2008, the time penalty is too harsh as it drops him behind people he wouldn’t have been behind if he hadn’t made the move.

Simply putting Schumacher back behind Alonso would have been a fair penalty, but the rules did not allow the stewards to do this.

The blame game

Schumacher’s penalty was excessive but it’s not the stewards who are at fault. Poorly-written rules are to blame.

The use of green flags made it unclear whether overtaking was allowed at the corner where Schumacher passed Alonso. It’s not hard to see how Mercedes could have thought the race was restarting.

And tight rules on penalties gave the stewards no option to give Schumacher a suitably mild penalty – such as docking him one position in the finishing order – for an infraction that was borne not out of malice but a misunderstanding.

A lot of comments have been made here criticising Damon Hill for the decision. Hill, a rival of Schumacher’s for many years, was serving as the drivers’ representative to the stewards.

It should be remembered that the decision to penalise Schumacher will not have been taken by Hill on his own. The other three stewards were Jose Abed, Paul Gutjahr and Christian Calmes.

Hill’s role this weekend was public knowledge and no-one he might conceivably have had prejudicial opinions for or against raised an objection. In an interview with the BBC before the race Hill freely acknowledged his former rivalry with Schumacher and said he would not allow it to sway his judgement.

Hill is too obvious and too easy a scapegoat. The rules are at fault, and not for the first time.

Like the Hamilton-Trulli incident at Melbourne last year, and Hamilton being stripped of his win at Spa in 2008, clearer rules could have prevented all these controversies.

2010 Monaco Grand Prix

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322 comments on The FIA’s badly-written rules leave Formula 1 looking stupid once again

  1. HounslowBusGarage said on 16th May 2010, 21:40

    Perfectly concise and accurate headline, Keith.
    There seemed to be a lot of confusion over the nature of ‘Green Flag’ status, but the quoted rule (Article 40.13) makes it clear that no overtaking is permitted, even though in all other circumstances a Green Flag means ‘Go for it’. . .
    As long as 40.13 has precedence over ‘Green Flag’ status, the penalty is properly applied.
    I don’t necessarily blame the FIA. But every time you try to nail down a rule tighter and tighter, chance will throw up a situation that lies exactly on the rule. Applies to this situation, double-deck diffusers and F-ducts.

    • Salty said on 17th May 2010, 1:35

      But do they have a 40.13 flag they can wave at the drivers?

      Yellow would have done just that if they had meant the drivers to cruise to the line.

      Green flag means only one thing to a driver. Go!

      If a mistake was made, it was by race control not clearly communicating its intensions to both stewards and marshalls. Why is a driver being punished for obeying the basic rules of racing?

      Green flag means free to race.

      Well done Schumacher.

    • Todfod said on 17th May 2010, 6:10

      Completely agree. I really dont know why anyone is putting up the ‘green flag’ and the ‘track is open’ argument.

      Im sure Brawn has the brains to understand that the article states that the safety car comes in on the end of the last lap. After which there will be no overtaking. It doesnt matter if the flag is green, yellow, blue, pink or burgundy. I thought the rules were pretty clear.. until Ross Brawn and Scummy decided to try and bend them.

      • hamder said on 17th May 2010, 9:14

        So you want drivers to speculate on the flag colors in-race @+200 km/h???

      • Frans said on 17th May 2010, 9:27

        Because you don’t read the first few words from article 40.13.
        Let just say that there is a debris in the finish line, would they show green flag or yellow flag? SC car would still be pulled as per 40.13, but surely they would still show the yellow flag. Because they show the green flag, it effectively nullify 40.13 since the race doesn’t end with SC still in deployment and there is a bit of distance between the SC line and the finish line.

        Let me ask you this… did the Monaco race ended under the safety car?

        • tvm said on 17th May 2010, 11:47

          No it did not, the flags should have been yellow all the way to the finish line then, green means race.
          Comments from Brawn on autosport:
          “But we were advised before the end of the race that the safety car was coming in. There was no instruction that the race was going to finish under the safety car, so for us as soon as we got the instruction ‘safety car in this lap’ at 15:51 we considered the race was now on again”

  2. Article 40.13 of the Formula 1 sporting regulations states: “If the race ends while the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.”

    This rule does seem to be quite straightforwards and I can understand why it would be applied; i.e. to make the chequered flag shots (with no safety car in sight) more “marketable”.

    However, IMO, the FIA made a mistake and quite clearly did not have adequate procedures in place for this eventuality / rule change. They should not have announced that the safety car was coming in, because technically it was still out, albeit just not crossing the finish line with the racing cars.

    I can imagine the marshals would have switched to green flags as a response to the “safety car in” message, as they were probably instructed to do during training.

    IMO, this confusion has been caused by the FIA, or whoever made the call to declare the “safety car in” message. The FIA should carry the can.

    Alonso / Schumacher should have been re-instated to their respective positions behind the safety car, as this wasn’t really their fault at all.

    • f1.1 said on 16th May 2010, 22:09

      you’re right, SAFETY CAR IN means 40.13 must not apply. Whether the race marshals wanted SC DEPLOYED or the situation described in 40.13 will probably never be known. Either way, if the intention was to create the situation described in 40.13, most salomonic solution would have been to give 6th place to ALO and MSC as it was the organiser’s fault that that message, if indeed it was intended, was contradicted by the signalling in place.

  3. AGBNyc said on 16th May 2010, 21:47

    @ Tarcisio – Which part of 40.13 does NOT apply? They said they intentionally employed 40.13 so anything else is out the window!!! Nice that you can overrule their own actions! Lap 78/78 occurred with the SC and pulled into the pits per 40.13 and cars were to finish without passing. How thick some people are. It’s not a good rule perhaps but it was their rule, their intention and what was broken….

    • f1.1 said on 16th May 2010, 22:13

      Sorry, this is just wrong. By all means, for anyone participating in the race the only possible understanding of the situation was that SC did in fact not come in because of 40.13 but because of the SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP and track clear given earlier in the final lap. Very simple, no case for 40.13, no case to answer.

    • Salty said on 17th May 2010, 1:48

      Does it state somewhere in 40.13 that the situation at the start of a lap is true of the whole lap?

      Must of missed that one.

      Clear track – RC

      Safety Car in This Lap – RC

      Green Flag – Marshalls (under RC)

      Overtake after SC line.

      Again, what has Schumacher done wrong?

      Michael is going to be docked all his points from this race because race control/marshalls/stewards can’t communicate?

      Spare me. I’m no Schumacher fan, but this just shows p*** poor judgement. Very disappointed.

  4. After some thought, I have come up with a perfect and elegant solution for this problem, borrowed from our friends across the pond in NASCAR, who may not know much about turning right but do know how to put on a good show: green-white-checquer finishes!

    If the Safety Car is out on the last lap, the race distance is extended by two laps so that we get two laps of clear running before the flag. That way, there are no complicated rules about what happens when the Safety Car comes in at the end of the race!

    Plus, we get the added excitement of wondering who is going to run out of fuel on those last two crucial laps.

    (This post may or may not have been made in complete seriousness)

    • HG said on 17th May 2010, 0:26

      it is a good solution. Because they get a number of wrecks (as they call crashes), i think by memory that it is limited to two green-white checquers. Nascar does have some good points :)

    • Dr. Mouse said on 17th May 2010, 14:07

      Sorry, but I disagree as things stand.

      With no refuelling, this would lead to cars running out in those last few laps.

      • Gavin said on 19th May 2010, 9:44

        :) Cars running out of fuel? – That’s half the point. I like it. Good suggestion.

  5. Schumacher shouldnt overtake Alonso, and paid for its error. Justice has been made. There arent good rules. just rules… Nice race Alonso!

  6. George said on 16th May 2010, 21:50

    Nice article Keith, I think everyone should be made to read this before arguing for or against the penalty.

  7. Dennis said on 16th May 2010, 21:55

    I disagree about the rule being in any way unclear in this case:

    “40.13 If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.”
    so there are a few terms in order for this rule to work:
    IF:
    - The race ends whilst the safety car is deployed THEN
    - The safety car enters the pit lane at the end of the last lap THEN
    - he cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.

    All those conditions are definetly met in this case Keith. The race ended whilst the safety car was deployed so the safety car enters the pit lane at the end of the last lap, so they can’t overtake each other. Pretty simple so far.

    I also disagree that the punishments are clear. It’s clear what punishments they can give, but it’s far from being specific enough. It’s like telling a judge he can punish a criminal by giving him community service, time in prison or time in a clinic of somekind. That’s not clear since it means that if you steal an apple, the judge may give you time in jail!! It’s not enough to know what kind of punishments they can give, they need to specify what kind of punishment applies to what rule, at least the maximum punishment. This is way too arbitraty.

    Another problem in this particular case is not the rule, but the PROCEDURE. Like I stated; The rule is clear, what causes the confusion is the procedure of the “SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP”-sign. In the case of “FINISHING UNDER SC” the SC ALWAYS goes in at the end of the last lap. That this leads to confusion is obvious since people are now bringing 40.11 into the picture, which is, in this case, just plain wrong.

    • Nick Barnes said on 16th May 2010, 22:09

      You are quite right. “If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed”…

      The question is, though, how do we know whether it was deployed or not?

      There could be two reasons why the car came in when it did:

      1 – Because the race was finishing under the safety car and the regulations were being followed.

      2 – Because the track was clear and it was safe to race again.

      Just because it came in when it did doesn’t automatically mean that the second reason can’t apply.

      • f1.1 said on 16th May 2010, 22:16

        Precisely, but today – for all the drivers and teams could have known – 2) applied, ie race on, because of the SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP signal since earlier in the final lap. No ambiguity whatsoever.

        • Nick Barnes said on 16th May 2010, 22:21

          I couldn’t agree more. Sadly other people seem to think that it’s obvious 1) applies and 2) doesn’t.

          Ho hum.

      • Dennis said on 17th May 2010, 9:23

        No in this case it could only be 1, since it came in in the last lap. It works the other way around too so you know it’s a finish under the safety car when the SC comes in at the last lap. If it comes in at any other lap it’s 40.11 and you can race from the SC line again, but if it comes in at the last lap it’s by definition a finish under SC.

        • Dennis said on 17th May 2010, 9:25

          Oh and that means 40.13 applies, and not 40.11. I agree that the punishment is too harsch and the procedure of “SC in this lap” causes a lot of unnecessary confusion, but the rules is very clear IMO.

        • Dennis said on 17th May 2010, 9:27

          Oh and that means 40.13 applies, and not 40.11. I agree that the punishment is too harsch and the procedure of “SC in this lap” causes a lot of unnecessary confusion, but the rule is very clear IMO.

          I do think they need to get rid of the entire “finish under SC”-rule though! I mean why not give them back 3 laps or something? I mean the cars save fuel under the SC-situation and if that doesn’t suffice then just change the regulations a little bit! So the gastanks become a little bit bigger again, but at least we’ll have decent finishes.

  8. nelly said on 16th May 2010, 21:56

    so basically, rule 40.13 means that when the safety car is out on the last lap, no overtaking is allowed what so ever even if the safety car goes into the pits at the end of the last lap all in the name of a pretty race finish?
    safety car + last lap + 40.13 = no more chances for overtaking and the results are already decided as soon as the safety car is into the last lap. :( Boring.
    stewards were correct in their decision and punishment as they could do nothing but follow what the rules dictate but it’s yet another stupid and pointless rule to say the least! get rid!
    rule 40.13 (new version) should read “Drivers should go hell for leather after the safety car has gone into the pits at the end of the last lap when there are green flags and lights”

  9. Xamanara said on 16th May 2010, 21:57

    This is BS! F1 is for people who enjoy watching racing and to be honest, the thing that intrests me the least are the rules. The less of them and the simpler they are, the better the racing! This kind of bureaucracy is ruining the sport!

    Big up for Schumi and Brawn for taking chances and risking just to make it all more exciting and competitive!

  10. Phil said on 16th May 2010, 21:57

    I think if a driver has committed an offence, then it is right that he should go back further than where he would have been if he had not made the move. Its a bit like robbing a bank and then saying sorry, you can have the money back.

    • It’s not like robbing a bank because they weren’t trying to break the rules. It’s more like being given some money and then being told “No, you weren’t supposed to have that. Oh and now you’re going to jail”

  11. Nick Barnes said on 16th May 2010, 22:02

    So, the stewards believe that the race ended whilst the safety car was still deployed. Fair enough, but this raises a number of questions:

    1 – At what point is the race deemed to have ended? Surely the race ends at the point the finish order (prior to any stewards’ decisions) is known. For the stewards’ decision to be valid, the definition of ‘deployed’ must be entirely theoretical – quite clearly the safety car was, in reality, off the track and out of the picture at the end of the race.

    2 – Given that the safety car was still theoretically deployed, one then has to ask how the teams would be aware of this. My understanding is that the messages passed to the teams in relation to the safety car were *exactly* the same as in any other situation – i.e. they were told that the safety car was coming in and then everything lit up green in *exactly* the same way as would have happened at any time during the race.

    3 – Why were the teams told that the safety car was coming in when they should have been told that the car was coming in, but would theoritically still be on the track?

    Some people have suggested that because the safety car started the last lap, it is quite obvious that it was still deployed at the end of the race. Bear in mind that the regulations don’t define the end of the race in terms of starting the last lap.

    It is worth repeating that if this situation occurred at any other point in the race, MSC’s manoeuvre would have been perfectly legitimate. The only reason it wasn’t was because the safety car was theoretically still deployed. There was absolutely no way that any team could know whether the car was still deployed or not.

    On balance (given the green flags and what would happen given *exactly* the same circumstances, but at a different point in the race), I believe that MSC’s manoeuvre was entirely legitimate.

    Unless somebody can demonstrate how a team would know that the safety car was still deployed, I’ll continue to believe that it wasn’t and that MSC was wronged.

    • f1.1 said on 16th May 2010, 22:19

      EXACTLY RIGHT! ……………………….

      • Jarred Walmsley said on 16th May 2010, 22:28

        What would be interesting to know is did the safety cars lights went out, if they did then the safety car was finished and racing would be allowed, and this would be further confirmed by the waving of the green flags

    • Macca77 said on 16th May 2010, 22:25

      “There was absolutely no way that any team could know whether the car was still deployed or not.”

      As a matter of fact the SC wasn’t on the track anymore so IMHO the right assumption for the teams was that the car wasn’t deployed.

      • f1.1 said on 16th May 2010, 22:28

        Exactly right…………………………

      • Nick Barnes said on 16th May 2010, 22:35

        That assumption, though, means that there could never be a situation where 40.13 would apply.

        I can’t believe for a moment that there would be redundant rules and therefore the only logical explanation is that a safety car does not have to be on the track for it to be deemed deployed.

        Given that there doesn’t seem to be any mechanism by which the teams are made aware of whether the safety car is deemed to be deployed, the whole thing’s a bit of a mess.

        There, that’s nice and clear isn’t it.

        • Ville said on 16th May 2010, 23:07

          Actually, if the ‘safety car in this lap’ would not have been announced, the rule would have applied. The safety car would have went of the track, but the overtaking would have been against the rules.

    • Ken said on 16th May 2010, 22:31

      It is also worth noting that following the logic that the race was “over” when the safety car started the last lap, had Mark Webber broken down and stopped on track without crossing start finish, he would still have won the race!

      All very goofy and unproffesional on the part of the stewards, there should not be any penalty for passing under green track conditions.

      • Nick Barnes said on 16th May 2010, 22:38

        Absolutely. Quite clearly, any argument that because the safety car started the last lap it should be deemed to have finished it is completely spurious.

  12. Dahlpil said on 16th May 2010, 22:08

    “Simply putting Schumacher back behind Alonso would have been a fair penalty, but the rules did not allow the stewards to do this.”

    No that would have been fair (for the individual), but not a penalty. A penalty is a punishment that should be imposed up on breaking the rules. The “fairness” should not be judged by the suffering of the punished (individual), but of the fairness of the whole, hence the 20 sec penalty.

    • George said on 16th May 2010, 22:22

      How is it fair the people behind Alonso get extra points for no effort?

      • HounslowBusGarage said on 16th May 2010, 22:48

        That’s irrelevent. If Webber, Vettel and Massa had broken down the all the other drivers would have benefitted “for no effort”.

  13. Sub said on 16th May 2010, 22:10

    Thanks for the followup and perhaps my comment towards Hill was uncalled for. Unfortunately the FIA rules are garabage that was written and do not appear to have been taken thru scenarios to look for conflict within their very rules.

  14. Subaru_STi said on 16th May 2010, 22:14

    GREEN FLAG MEANS GO RACING, ITS BEEN THAT WAY FOR 1 HUNDRED YEARS!!! it just sounds like some anglo saxon bureaucrat wants to to change the core rules of racing, so everyone ends up arguing over technicalities breeding caution and ruining racing, this kind of stuff is my pet hate and im seething with F1 at the moment more than i ever have before.

    • matt88 said on 16th May 2010, 22:30

      you’re right, but as Keith pointed out those green flags created this unclear situation. they had to be shown only at the start of a new lap, not from the SC line to the finish line.

    • Damon said on 16th May 2010, 22:34

      Yes, and that’s the bottom line.
      The driver sits in his cockpit and relies upon the signals he is given by the officials. When you give him a green flag it’s an unambiguous signal that the race is on.

      You cannot punish a driver when you yourself have misled him.

      • HounslowBusGarage said on 16th May 2010, 22:51

        No, it’s not unambiguous. Green flag means ‘obstruction removed’, but the situation might still be subject to other conditions eg Article 40.13.

        • Nick Barnes said on 16th May 2010, 22:59

          Green flag does not mean ‘obstruction removed’.

          From http://www.formula1.com (The ‘official’ F1 web site):
          “All clear. The driver has passed the potential danger point and prohibitions imposed by yellow flags have been lifted.”

          • BasCB said on 17th May 2010, 7:45

            To me it seems, Nick, that HounslowBusGarage said exactly the same, just nor formulated in the formal wording.

        • Damon said on 16th May 2010, 23:26

          No, a green flag means something more:
          “Green flag
          All clear. The driver has passed the potential danger point and PROHIBITIONS IMPOSED BY YELLOW FLAGS HAVE BEEN LIFTED.”

          “the situation might still be subject to other conditions eg Article 40.13.”
          - Not really.
          The direct signals always overpower the formal regulations because they are of dynamic nature (and are adjusted to the state of current events that they result from).

          Imagine you’re approaching an intersection with a traffic sign telling you to turn right, but with a Police car and a Policeman in the middle of the intersection telling you to turn left.
          Will you go right, because the traffic regulations expressed by the sign tell you to do so?
          OF COURSE NOT!!
          You will take the direct instructions from the authority!

          And the direct instructions from the authorities MSC received were:
          “All prohibitions have been lifted. The race is on!”

          • No, any half-decent policeman would’ve switched off the traffic lights. Yet F1 couldn’t do that, and kept green lights on??

    • TMAX said on 16th May 2010, 22:52

      Yes Sir I agree, Green Flag I know means “Bigety Bigety Bigety, Lets Go Racing Boys!!!!!”

      Please don’t change that.

      Maybe the FIA want’s say to Green Flag Means “Please Continue your Procession Gentlemen” and this is a race so please don’t overtake :)

  15. Ken said on 16th May 2010, 22:19

    The facts:
    1. The lights on the safety car went out
    2. The safety car went to pit lane
    3. The green lights and flags were displayed
    4. The safety car signs were withdrawn from pit in to start /finish

    I have no idea what the officials are doing, and neither do they. All of the above CLEARLY indicated, “the race is resuming under green flag conditions to the line, go to it”.

    No race fan would have assumed anything else as the above circumstances cannot mean anything else!

    If there is some obscure requlation which says “you do not resume racing when the green flag comes out on the last part of the last lap if the safety car has gone into the pits, that is the quite stupid on the part ofthe FIA.

    If the race was to end under caution why did the safety car go back in and the green flag wave?

    A complete farce! Schumaker should be awarded the “Move of the Race Trophy’ for being the only one conscious on the last restart!

    • f1.1 said on 16th May 2010, 22:23

      You’re absolutely right 1.-4. together plus the SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP message since early in lap 78 made it clear that the safety car was not deployed and the race on from SC line to finish. Maybe the organisers wanted 40.13 to apply, but then they got all the signalling wrong and no driver/team should be punished for reading and obeying the sigalling in place!

    • Daffid said on 16th May 2010, 23:06

      It’s not move of the race if nobody else was bothering to race, or had been strictly instructed not to.

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