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. Although the penalty gives me some reason to smile (FI got 8/9th and 3 additional points), I’m rather surprised at the decision. I was expecting the FIA to swallow its pride and give Merc GP and MSC a ‘let go’ as it was clearly a misunderstanding of poorly written regs and if anyone’s fault, it was the FIA’s. Mercedes did nothing wrong, imo, in allowing Michael to overtake as the track was clearly green and overtaking is allowed after the 1st safety car line.
    40.13 would’ve applied if the race had finished under yellow flags, with or without the safety car leading.
    As the safety car had gone in and the track was green-flagged, there was nothing wrong in Michael overtaking.
    The worst part in all of this is the ridiculous manner in which the FIA regulations are written. What a bunch of muppets! With their million dollar lawyers, they can’t even write a clear set of regulations, let alone sensible ones..
    Mercedes are very right in appealing as it is a grossly unfair decision.
    Utterly embarrassing outcome in the end.

  2. Simon Hull said on 16th May 2010, 22:23

    But this is what I don’t get, Michael Schumacher makes an attempt at an overtaking move which he successfully and legally excecutes, yet he gets docked five places (to last) from where he was before the move. In trying a move he gets penalised 5 places. Its not like he’s cut a corner or something. Normally I am not fond of NASCAR but the race extension idea sounds like common sense which at times is seriously lacking in our valued sport.

  3. As Dennis has said, this appears to be a failure of procedure. As Ross Brawn points out, “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.” If the race was still under SC conditions, I don’t see why green flags should have been waved and the SC signs should have been drawn in. This can only lead to confusion. The procedures that the marshals follow should make it easy for the drivers and teams to understand the conditions on the track, not confusing.

  4. Don said on 16th May 2010, 22:36

    Keith,

    How about your website awards both Alonso and Schumacher an award for passing at Monaco. Both drivers should be cellebrated for doing what race-car drivers should do.

    Alonso had a great dive-bomb on Massa for the pitlane, and if that is legal, it was a great pass, and if it wasn’t it was a great pass.

    Michael is in the same boat here and I’m sure Alsono would agree (though possibly quietly). Race car drivers pass. Of all the bashing of Michael – how many other race car drivers passed another race car driver at Monaco?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th May 2010, 8:02

      if that is legal, it was a great pass, and if it wasn’t it was a great pass.

      It was legal.

      I agree we should celebrate drivers making legal passing moves. A certain one at Spa two years ago springs to mind!

      Of all the bashing of Michael – how many other race car drivers passed another race car driver at Monaco?

      Outside of F1, Giedo van der Garde and Brendon Hartley did some good passes in GP2 and WSR respectively.

      And of course Alonso picked off some of the slower cars, though only di Grassi defended his position.

  5. Jarred Walmsley said on 16th May 2010, 22:37

    Why didn’t the stewards simply award a single place position drop at Turkey which while still an unfair penalty would have been the most fair penalty that they would be able to give him.

    • Mr. T said on 16th May 2010, 23:47

      I think a penalty in the form of a grid drop at the next race would have been the worst choice.

      MSC is being penalised for overtaking and gaining 6th position. The way I read it, the FIA can only apply one out of the three penalty options… so if they chose the option of a grid drop at the next race, MSC would keep the points for 6th!

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th May 2010, 8:04

      The stewards only tend to use the grid penalty in circumstances where a driver has taken himself out of a race – e.g. Vettel’s collision with Kubica at Melbourne last year.

      And, to be honest, I’m happy with it that way. I don’t like to see drivers carrying penalties into the next race.

      Plus the grid penalty is a very inconsistent punishment. A five-place grid drop is a disaster at Monaco, but it’s not so bad at Istanbul.

  6. TMAX said on 16th May 2010, 22:46

    After a Pathetic Procession like today’s race, at least we have something to talk about.

    Keith, If we go by the facts of the green flag that you have given above I believe that Mercedes will gets a fair chance by FIA court reversing the decision/overtake but we will have to wait and watch how FIA would have to clean up their own mess.

    Again Racing drivers cannot race by having a copy of the FIA regulations in the cockpit. So it is up to the team to instruct them. Mclaren did the safe thing possible because if they let loose Lewis he would have taken a couple of positions and possibly ended up on the 3rd position on the podium. If the Team instructed Schumi wrongly, then fine the team. Take the constructors points away for Mercedes and keep the position behind Alonso for Schumi with points. And for God’s Sake spare Damon Hill. Damon to be fair on you – please don’t accept this position until Schumi is racing. Everybody will have all sorts of comments on this.

    Anyway I have been watching F1 for last 20 years. Been watching NASCAR for only last 7 years. I know it will not sound very nice but please FIA talk to your NASCAR counterparts and understand how clean they do the Pace Car and the rules around it. Esp situations such as today’s are handled extremely well. There is even a new rule this year that they will make 3 attempts to finish the race under green before closing it under Pace car under the regulation time. Very well thought about.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th May 2010, 8:06

      Racing drivers cannot race by having a copy of the FIA regulations in the cockpit.

      I agree. The sporting regulations are seriously over-complicated .

  7. The big issue here, from my point of view is “the first safety car line”. Why in the world would the race restart after cars cross the safety car line when there is a perfectly good and clear start/finish line 250 metres down the road? Since when has this regulation be changed, and for what possible reason? This is what has created all the confusion and is what should be amended in the first place.

  8. Icthyes said on 16th May 2010, 22:54

    If they are not meant to be racing, why show green flags? For the cameras? How shallow is F1 now? It’s also a dangerous safety issue; imagine a young driver momentarily forgets the rule and sees the green flags waving. He goes for it, with the driver in front of him not expecting it. They tangle, there’s a crash, and somebody gets hurt.

    In future the FIA should mandate nothing but yellow flags. Do they really think that the TV audience will be fooled into forgetting that the race is ending artificially close just because of the colour of the flags being waved?

  9. Gusto said on 16th May 2010, 22:57

    It`s there in black an white, if the `SC In this Lap` message is given the race cant restart till it is out off the way, it doesn`t matter where in the lap the `SC In` message is given theres no racing till you pass the SC line.

    Now, if the SC message is given an the SC enters the final lap the cars still cant race till the SC line is passed BUT `the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking`.

    The only thing I can see in all of this is the stupidity of the rule wasn`t revealed till someone broke it.

  10. Chippie said on 16th May 2010, 22:59

    ‘Poorly written rules’ – that’s not fair! Motor racing is immensely complicated sport which requires more sporting regulations than any sport I can think of. It’s understandable that in the vast set of rules there will be a situation where rules become unclear, these are things which you just can’t anticipate, and to blame the FIA for this I think is mean.

    • Nick Barnes said on 16th May 2010, 23:03

      Any rule which applies under certain circumstances, but yet which fails to adequately define those circumstances is poorly written.

      This particular rule appears to have been written for an ideal world. I would suggest that it appears no attempts have been made to see how well it’d stand up in the real world.

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

        The rule is poorly written IF it was indeed interpreted correctly. For every person with understanding of English, it should be clear that the interpretation was not correct. So for this particular example I can’t draw conclusion that there’s something wrong with the rule. The race simply was not finished with SC on, because SC was called in and the green flags were shown. To finish it correctly with the SC on means that there won’t be green flags and the SC is not called in.

        There might be problems with the other rules ofcourse.

        Yellow flags are enought to tell the drivers that the overtaking is not allowed. So basically, even though the SC was called in, they could have separately forbidden the overtaking with yellow flags if that is what they wanted.

        So the fault in this case is on the people who made the decision for the penalty.

  11. Fer no.65 said on 16th May 2010, 22:59

    what annoys me the most is that Webber’s incredible win is left behind all this madness about FIA’s own fault with those stupid rules that contradict each other…

  12. Ville said on 16th May 2010, 23:00

    Bad ruling. That was the only interesting thing in whole race, but it is quite understandable that anything interesting is forbidden in Monaco GP. Without the ‘safety car in this lap’ message, the overtaking would have been against the rules, but the race did not finish with the safety car.

    The rule _clearly_ states that “If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed…”. This clearly did not happen because the safety car was indeed called in, so no need to read rest of the rule. The flags confirm that this indeed happened.

  13. If alonso knew that overtaking was an option he would problebly been closer to hamilton and watching michael more in the mirrors.

    • Syrjälä said on 16th May 2010, 23:29

      Most definately he would have been, but Alonso didn’t know. So why should Schumacher be punished for Alonso and Ferrari not knowing the rules? SC was called in with _separate_ announcement, so the race did not finish with the SC on.

      • Kike said on 17th May 2010, 1:00

        Ferrari told Alonso that he couldn’t overtake in the last lap so Alonso knew about it.

        http://www.marca.com/2010/05/16/motor/formula1/1274020933.html

        It says Fernando Alonso:” When I saw Michael passed me I thought better some points he will lose”

        ”In the last lap the team told me it was forbidden to overtake on that lap, the safety car was going to retire, but symbolically, for the victors do not enter behind it”

        • Kike said on 17th May 2010, 1:01

          ”In the last lap the team told me it was forbidden to overtake on that lap, the safety car was going to retire, but symbolically, for the winners do not finish behind it”

  14. Jon said on 16th May 2010, 23:02

    Rules are there to be interpreted and the stewards could have made up their minds in the way that would have defined this law. What they have now done is that if there is 2 miles between the pit in and the finish line the leader could just go to wards it at 1 mile an hour and the rest will just have to follow. This is not a good interpretation.

    This would seem to be what most of the racing world are thinking.

    I do believe that the interpretation taken was coloured by Michael and Brawns past audacious interpretation of the rules as well as Michaels ability to push/test the rules. And I do believe as much as Hill cannot be totally blamed he must carry some weight for the decision and that will be coloured by his and Michaels past.

    • Gusto said on 16th May 2010, 23:10

      The race will finish `as normal`, so if a car does 1mph you can assume that it is retiring from the race an you can proceed as normal, funny enough thats what caught Lewis out last year in Aus, He had every right to proceed as normal.

      • Nick Barnes said on 16th May 2010, 23:28

        I think if we’ve learned anything today it’s that drivers and teams shouldn’t assume anything.

  15. MEmo said on 16th May 2010, 23:03

    Great article, Keith. But is it still posible to revert the penalty? I´ve read it´s not possible, since you can´t appeal it.
    I can´t believe how idiotic FOM, FIA and/or F1 really is: ok, let´s say the SC-period was still valid and cars weren´t allowed to overtake. Why was it so hard to keep the yellow flags and yellow lights on? It´s incredibly stupid to state that SC-period is still valid but show the drivers green lights and flags…

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